Syrian Arab Republic
Ministry of Agriculture
3 years from March 2004 to February 2007
The importance of forest should not be underestimated in a country as widely arid as the Syrian Arab Republic, where the forests provide stable feed for large number of grazing animals, plays a significant role in water catchment, in desertification control and in prevention of soil erosion and in conservation of biodiversity.
Forest fire in Syria is primarily a social problem. In fact, more than 95 percent of the annual fires are set directly by rural people living in and around forests and/or indirectly by their related activities (agricultural activities like grazing within forest stands, conversion of forest lands to agriculture and house construction, etc.).
Previous assistance to the country in forest fire management, has concentrated on developing the country’s capacities in fire detection and control; this project is aiming at strengthening the capacities in fire prevention and preparedness through a multisectoral approach with the direct involvement of local communities.
In this context, through FAO technical assistance and funding from the Italian Government the present project GCP/SYR/010/ITA intends to assist the government and the rural people in forested areas to maximize the benefits of forests by supporting the development of environmentally sound fire management practises.
The project attempts to restore the biodiversity in degraded forest ecosystems in the coastal region of the country. In addition it will protect and improve the management of afforested areas. The project has three main development areas: administrative, institutional, and technical all of which include capacity building and the involvement of local communities in forest fire control. Local staff at central and provincial level will be trained in developing an integrated forest fire plan in a participatory manner. Institutional and legislative changes conducive to a wider forest user participation (villagers) in the management of fire will be proposed. New techniques in forest protection will be developed. Specific national plan for forest fires control will be finalized. Finally, special considerations will be applied to this project such as educating the general public in the environmental role of forests and on the social impact of participatory fire management.
From the arrival of the Chief Technical Advisor, in March 2004, the project has planned and organized a number of meetings aimed at introducing the project rational, objectives and expected outputs, its concept and community participation aspects and related issues. Meetings have involved different governmental organizations, including senior agriculture and forestry officials, Lattakia Civil Defense, Governorate Firefighting Directorate, Lattakia Agriculture Extension, Lattakia Forestry Department staff and many other national institutions. A National Steering Committee has been established and its members, representing various agencies and institutions, have been fully involved in the Project Inception Workshop during which the implementation strategy and annual plan were discussed.
A major achievement of the project has been the establishment of the ‘Governorate Fire Management Committee’, the first of its kind in the country. The committee, which was formally legalized with a decree by the Lattakia Governor, is a multi-sector committee in charge of the coordination of the governorate integrated forest fire management and will support project related activities.
The process for the establishment of a community-based integrated fire management plan has also been initiated for each of the selected pilot areas. In this respect a rapid rural appraisal survey has been conducted, aimed at understanding forest people’s relations and interactions and the underlying causes of fire, as well as other basic related issues, in addition to the general open discussions organized with different actors. To ensure the coverage of major forest fire causes at an early stage, the project has assessed direct field information and documented data, gathering them in an organized database.
Field visits and observation conducted by the project indicated that, to date, the forest cover of Lattakia, which is estimated to be around 85000 ha, suffers from low maintenance and a high quantity of dry fire fuel. Forest roads and fire lines are also lacking within certain areas. It is also important to note that, in some parts, forests are in direct contact with olive and annual crop farms. Such conditions are considered forest fire conducive.
Public meetings organized with local communities have also shown that another important aspect to be considered is the linkage with local people and their involvement in forest maintenance. This is especially true when forests are adjacent or close to their farms and/or within their community.
Taking the above into consideration, the project has created additional forest maintenance crews. To ensure direct benefit to local forest communities, such crews have been formed using local population. By March 2005, six crews have been established with a total team of about 250 staff. Many of the crew members have already been trained in forest maintenance activities and all of them are under the supervision of the Forest Management Circle of the Forest Department in Lattakia.
As a result of project intervention in connection to forest structure and tree species selection, the Forest Department of Lattakia, in consultation with the Forest Directorate, has introduced new tree planting models that include fire resistance species along the main fire lines and roads in the reforestation efforts of the recently burnt sites in Lattakia. The green breaks of broadleaf such as carob tree (Ceratonia siliqua) and laurel (Laurus nobilis) have been planted in one or two rows.
After revision of current data and information, it has been noted that the current forest law needs substantial revision. For this purpose, a National Workshop on Forest Legislation has been organized by the project and attended by participants representing different stakeholders. The workshop introduced participants to the role and importance of forest policies and methodologies for their formulation, as well as international trends in preparing forest and wild fire forest legislation and awareness and communication in forest fire management.
Furthermore, the project has included the training of the project team and forestry extension officers from all the country’s governorates in the field of awareness raising and campaign preparation. Approximately 20 nationals attended a two-day formal session organized for this purpose. In addition, the project team has continued to receive technical support and/or on-the-job training throughout. Subjects covered include: fire management, fire detection, community participation, awareness raising and campaign design.
To further sensitize institutions and the local population, the project has begun preparation for the national awareness campaign. To this purpose a slogan has been created, ‘Together to Protect Our Forest’, and a logo has been chosen among those designed by local artists. The team has also initiated the graphics design process for several leaflets, posters, lectures/lessons for addressing different groups, including school children, women, youth and farmers.