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The Near East1,2

1 The highlights for the Near East cover the following countries; Afghanistan, Bahrain, Cyprus, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

2 Unless otherwise stated, all data on forest cover and forest products cited are from FAO databases: Forest Resources Assessment and the FAO Yearbook of Forest Products.

Various factors external to the forestry sector are having a significant impact on forest resources in the Near East region. Among these are urbanization, economic changes and warfare.

As with most other developing regions, the Near East is undergoing rapid urbanization, including both seasonal and permanent migration of rural populations to urban areas. In many forest and mountain regions, populations are now earning a significant part of their income from off-farm employment. The trends in urbanization and industrialization are expected to continue and to somewhat reduce pressure on the forests in rural areas from grazing and fuelwood collection. Rapid urbanization on the other hand, creates new pressures, such as clearance of forests in the course of urban expansion, localized overcutting in peri-urban areas to supply fuelwood to urban populations, and unplanned and uncontrolled tourism development, particularly around large settlements and coastal strips. In some areas, air pollution in industrialized regions has had negative effects on forests and trees.

Economic difficulties in most of the region's countries have been one of the main constraints to more efficient conservation and sustainable management of natural resources, including forests. On the other hand, strong economies in some of the wealthier countries (i.e., Saudi Arabia, the UA Emirates, Kuwait, Libya, Oman) have enabled them to allocate considerable financial resources to the establishment of areas of green cover.

National and regional disputes and wars have also been a cause of serious forest resource degradation in some countries of the region (e.g., Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon).

Forest resources

The Near East region has never been heavily forested due to its harsh climatic conditions. However, forests once covered a much larger area of the region, especially in its northern part, than they do today. Forests now cover only about 2 percent of the land area of the Near East region. Of the existing 12.7 million ha of forest lands, 11.8 million ha are located only in three countries (8.9 million ha in Turkey, 1.5 million ha in Iran, and 1.4 million in Afghanistan). The other 13 countries of the region together account for only 1.9 million ha of forest. Three countries (Bahrain, Oman and Qatar) have little or no natural forest cover. In 1990, it was calculated that 330 000 ha, or about 2.6 percent of the total forest area was in plantations, the rest being in natural forest. It is estimated that between 1990 and 1995, deforestation in the region amounted to 800 000 ha, or an annual rate of loss of 1.2 percent. Much forest land has been degraded by fire, overgrazing and overcutting for local use of wood products. Large parts of the remaining forest areas support only poor vegetation cover.

The arid climate limits forestry potential in the region. Not only is it the cause of low productivity of the region's forests, but once destroyed, it is difficult, time consuming and expensive to reestablish forest vegetation.

In the vast areas lacking any natural forest cover, local populations cultivate fast growing, multipurpose tree species (i.e., acacias, poplars, eucalyptus, casuarina, cypress) on and around farmlands and near homesteads to meet their needs for wood and other products, to protect agricultural crops against wind damage, and to provide shelter and amenity value. Small woodlots and agroforestry systems provide significant amounts of wood in some countries (e.g., 4 million m3 per annum in Turkey). In many countries (e.g., Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Iran), wood production outside the forest (e.g., on agricultural land) is even higher than from the forest.

Forest resources development and conservation

Until the middle of the twentieth century, most forests of the region were looked to mainly as a source of fuelwood and poles, and of game animals and other non-wood forest products (NWFPs) for local use. They have always been important grazing areas. Livestock grazing has, traditionally, played a significant economic and social role in the region. Widespread recognition of the importance of the protective functions of forests did not arise in most countries until relatively recently. Forests play vital roles in the region in protection of soil and water resources, particularly in areas prone to desertification and in the mountainous regions and steep watersheds. They also provide shelter, protection against wind damage and dust storms, stabilization of river banks and control of floods.

Forest protection is considered one of the main activities of forestry departments in many countries of the region. This includes combating forest fires and controlling grazing, encroachment and illegal cuttings. Some efforts have also been made to conserve the region's remaining mangrove forests.

Afforestation and sand dune stabilization are being carried out to limit the risks of desertification, to which most of the Near East countries are exposed. Desertification control initiatives are particularly vigorous in Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran.

Many countries (i.e., Syria, Turkey, Jordan, Iran) have had active programmes in afforestation and reforestation of degraded forest lands, mainly for protective purposes, although some of the plantations have a productive function as well. Reforestation of degraded forest lands has, in some countries such as Turkey and Syria, led to serious conflicts with local populations who, by tradition, have often used such areas as common grazing lands. In addition, the benefits to local people of reforestation efforts (mainly involving coniferous species) have been limited in most countries, offering mainly employment opportunities for plantation establishment and maintenance. In order to provide greater local benefit, some countries have started to plant multipurpose tree species (i.e., for fruit, fodder, honey production) in reforestation efforts (e.g., Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan). Some countries have also started testing and establishing silvipastoral plantations for forage production on degraded forest lands.

Countries have made efforts to implement integrated watershed programmes involving different institutions, including those responsible for forestry, pasture, agriculture and rural development. In some cases, efforts have been made to introduce participatory approaches to encourage the involvement of local populations in planning and management of watershed activities and improvement of land use systems. Some of these efforts are supported by external loans and grants (e.g., Eastern Anatolia Integrated Watershed Development Project in Turkey, Zarqa River Basin Project in Jordan, Watershed and Range Development Project in Iran).

The use of forests and trees for amenity and recreational purposes is gaining in importance in all countries in the region, due mainly to trends in urbanization and the demands of urban populations. Many countries have been establishing greenbelts, roadside plantations and other urban and peri-urban plantings (e.g., Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kuwait, Oman).

Increased attention has been given to both conservation of biological diversity and to the development of tourism in many countries of the region. Some countries have recently adopted policies and taken steps to expand and improve the management of protected areas and national parks (e.g., Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Cyprus, Lebanon). A number of new parks and protected areas have been established in recent years. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, Oman and Turkey have extensive parks and protected area systems. It is not known, however, how much forest land is included in the parks and protected area systems in the region.

Although game animals are no longer a significant source of food for local populations in the region, hunting for certain wildlife species as an organized tourist activity has become a good source of income in some countries (e.g., wild goat hunting in southern Turkey and bear hunting in eastern Turkey). This has, however, been a point of contention between local people, foresters, and NGOs and environmental groups in some places.

Forest products and industries

Fuelwood and charcoal are important products in the Near East region, their volume of production being about two-thirds that of all industrial wood products (see Table 1). Fuelwood and charcoal meet important energy needs of rural populations living within or near forested areas, particularly in cold mountain regions.

Although their production is not well quantified, non-wood forest products (e.g., fodder, game, honey, gum, fruits, mushroom, dyes, medicinal and aromatic plants) are important in local economies, providing for household needs and serving as a source of supplementary income at the local level. In some cases, NWFPs also contribute to national economies; in some countries (e.g., Yemen, Iran), revenues from the export of NWFPs exceed those from wood products exports. Most NWFPs are exported in raw, unprocessed form.

Only Turkey and, to a lesser extent, Iran and Afghanistan, produce significant quantities of wood; together, the three countries account for 96 percent of the region's total roundwood production (including 93 percent of fuelwood and charcoal, and 99 percent of industrial roundwood).

All countries of the region are largely dependent on imports for meeting their needs for wood and wood products; some countries are wholly dependent. Even Turkey, which has the largest forest area in the region, imports around 1.5 million m of roundwood each year.

Forest industry is economically important only in Turkey and Iran. In other countries, the industry is confined to small scale sawmills and panelboard factories which largely depend on imports of finished and semi-finished products.

Forestry institutions

Forestry is covered at ministerial level only in Turkey; in most of the other countries in the region, forestry is organized as a department under the Ministry of Agriculture (i.e., in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Cyprus, Yemen, Iraq). In Iran, forestry and range management are placed under the Ministry of Jihad-e-Sazandegi, while in Saudi Arabia forestry is under the Ministry of Agriculture and Water.

Environment ministries or departments have been established recently in several countries (e.g., Ministry of Environment in Syria and Turkey, and departments of environment under different ministries in other countries). Although only newly formed, they are expected to play important roles in the future, particularly in the development of environmental policies and legislation, and in raising awareness and support for environmental issues including forests and protected areas.

The mandate of forestry departments in many countries is quite broad, including not only forest protection (all countries), but also desertification control (Saudi Arabia, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Yemen), afforestation (most countries) and watershed management (Turkey, Jordan, Iran, Cyprus). The forestry departments in Iran, Jordan and Afghanistan, are responsible also for pasture development and management. Under the Ministry of Forestry in Turkey, the General Directorate of Forest Villages Relations implements rural development plans in forested regions and assists in the creation of rural development cooperatives for this purpose. In Iran, the Forestry and Range Organization gives special importance to rural development and people's involvement in harvesting and afforestation activities.

Table 1
Forest production, trade and consumption in the Near East region (1000 m3 or 1000 tonnes)






fuelwood and charcoal (1000 m3)

16 778



16 929

industrial roundwood (1000m3)

16 018

1 677


17 672

sawnwood and sleepers (1000 m3)

4 648

2 134


6 642

wood-based panels (1000m3)

1 376

1 339


2 591

pulp for paper (1000 tonnes)





paper and paperboard (1000 tonnes)

1 388

1 801


3 032

Forestry administrations in many countries lack financial and human resources, a situation which is aggravated by their isolation from the political power structure and their limited public relations capacity. In spite of the progress made in the field of forestry education and training, a lack of skilled manpower still constitutes a major constraint in forestry development and conservation in the region. The countries of the Near East region, with few exceptions, have been slow to adopt the worldwide trend in decentralization, involving the devolution of responsibility to lower levels and regionalization.

Well-established forestry research institutions exist only in some countries (Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Syria). Most research concentrates on technical forestry problems; research on environmental and socio-economic subjects is still limited. Well-established university programmes for forestry exist in Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Israel and Cyprus, and programmes have been started recently in Syria and Jordan. The Forest and Range School in Latakia, Syria, and the Cyprus Forestry College are important regional institutions providing mid-level (i.e., technician) training. Only recently, after a long period of low enrollment, have student numbers in forestry schools increased. Greater global attention on forestry and the new international conventions related to forestry and environment have led to more interest in forestry as a profession (e.g., in Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia).

Although there has been considerable development in the NGO-sector during recent years, NGOs active in environmental fields are still at limited levels in most countries of the region, with the exception of Turkey, Lebanon, and Jordan, where some NGOs have become well recognized and influential. The Environmental Conservation Society and Royal Society for the Protection of Nature and Environment in Jordan are unique in that they are authorized to oversee the management of protected areas in the country.

Forest policy and planning

A trend towards more comprehensive development planning continues in the region, and the role of the forestry sector within overall economic and social development is being recognized in National Development Plans (NDPs). All countries in the region have either specific forestry plans or have forestry activities incorporated into their national development plans. Many have formulated forest policies and others are planning to do so. All national forest plans in the region call for measures to:

· reduce the negative effects of deforestation and land degradation;

· encourage community involvement and private sector initiatives;

· conserve existing natural forests and expand the area of forests by reforestation and afforestation;

· increase attention to environmental roles and functions of forests; and

· expand protected area systems and ensure their proper management.

Several countries in the region have updated their forest legislation and regulations (i.e., Lebanon, Iraq, Turkey) giving new emphasis to environmental protection, socio-economic roles of forestry and community involvement in forestry/agroforestry (e.g., the Afforestation Mobilization Law in Turkey, 1995; and the law for compulsory windbreak and tree plantations in farming systems in Iraq, 1995). At the same time, they are introducing heavier penalties against forest offenses (e.g., the new Forest Law enacted in 1995 in Lebanon, and the proposed amended Forest Laws which are currently being debated in the Parliaments of Jordan and Syria).

There have been no significant changes in forest ownership in most countries of the region. Most of the forests and woodlands are state-owned. Although countries of the Near East have not as yet followed the trend in many other parts of the world towards the privatization of forests and expansion of user rights over forest lands and products, they have been examining the pros and cons of such a course of action. This question was discussed at the 16th session of Silva Mediterranea, held in Larnaca, Cyprus, in June 1996, where the discussion centred on the effects of allocation of rights over forest lands either on a collective (e.g., village forests) or private basis as a way of increasing people's involvement in, and benefit from, forest management.

In general, the development and adoption of suitable community forestry models and use of participatory approaches in rural development activities are still in early stages. However, a number of national and regional projects, including some assisted by FAO, the World Bank and German bilateral aid, have encouraged such development. The implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification is also expected to encourage partnerships and local decision making.

Recent initiatives

The forestry sector is expected to be affected by the major international developments following UNCED that link, directly or indirectly, conservation, management and sustainable development of forests and trees to sustainable national development. Some examples of recent developments that have taken place in this context are as follows:

· Most of the countries in the region have started national initiatives in relation to implementation of Chapter 11 of Agenda 21, especially IPF programme element 1.4, which addresses fragile ecosystems affected by desertification.

· Most of the region's countries have signed the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the Convention on Biological Diversity.

· The Inter-Agency Task Force ad hoc Meeting on Desertification in the Near East, held from 23-25 September 1996 in Cairo, recommended improved linkages and enhanced networks among regional and international institutions active in the region, which would also strengthen management of forest resources.

· The FAO/UNEP Expert Meeting on Criteria and Indicators for Sustainable Forest Management in the Near East Region, held from 15-17 October 1996 in Cairo, identified a set of criteria and indicators suitable for the region (see page 118). The 12th Near East Forestry Commission meeting (21-24 October 1996, Cairo), adopted the set of criteria and indicators and agreed to launch national efforts for testing and adaptation of criteria and indicators for sustainable forest management.

The Eleventh World Forestry Congress will be held for the first time in the Near East region (Antalya, Turkey) in October 1997. This significant event is expected to draw international attention to forestry problems in the region.

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