In Lebanon, climate change devours ancient cedar trees

Nabil Nemer, a Lebanese entomologist and ecologist, walks through the Cedars Reserve Forest of Tannourine in the Lebanon mountains northeast of the capital Beirut on October 30, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 28 November 2018

In Lebanon, climate change devours ancient cedar trees

  • The cedar tree, with its majestic horizontal branches, graces the nation’s flag and its bank notes
  • But as temperatures rise, and rain and snowfall decrease, Lebanon’s graceful cedars are increasingly under attack

TANNOURINE: High up in Lebanon’s mountains, the lifeless grey trunks of dead cedar trees stand stark in the deep green forest, witnesses of the climate change that has ravaged them.
Often dubbed “Cedars of God”, the tall evergreens hark back millenia and are a source of great pride and a national icon in the small Mediterranean country.
The cedar tree, with its majestic horizontal branches, graces the nation’s flag and its bank notes.
But as temperatures rise, and rain and snowfall decrease, Lebanon’s graceful cedars are increasingly under attack by a tiny green grub that feed off the youngest trees.
At 1,800 metres altitude, in the natural reserve of Tannourine in the north of Lebanon, ashen tree skeletons jut out of the forest near surviving cedars centuries old.
“It’s as if a fire had swept through the forest,” says Nabil Nemer, a Lebanese specialist in forest insects.
In ancient times, huge cedar forests were felled for their timber.
Egyptian pharaohs used the wood to make boats, and King Solomon is said to have used cedar to build his temple in Jerusalem.
But today’s culprits lie underground, just several centimetres (inches) below the tree trunk: bright green, wriggling larvae no larger than a grain of rice.
Since the late 1990s, infant cedar sawflies have been eating away at the forest in Tannourine, as well as several other natural reserves in northern Lebanon.
“In 2017, 170 trees dried up completely and became dead wood,” Nemer says.

Like their food of choice, cedar sawflies have been around for thousands of years.
They mate in spring and lay their eggs on the cedar tree trunks, where grubs hatch and feast on cedar needles.
In the past, the larvae would then head back into the ground to hibernate for up to three or four years, before emerging again as adult sawflies with wings.
But a warming earth has disrupted this cycle, especially in the Mediterranean where “climate change is more intense”, according to Wolfgang Cramer, a scientist and member of Mediterranean Experts on Environmental and Climate Change (MedECC).
In a November report, MedECC said future warming in the Mediterranean region was “expected to exceed global rates by 25 percent”.
As the ground becomes less cold and humid in winter, sawflies are now springing out of the earth every year, and in larger numbers.
Their preferred victims are young cedar trees, aged 20 to 100 years old.
Temperatures in Tannourine have risen by two degrees Celsius in the past 30 years and there is less snow than before, Nemer says.
“With the drought, this larvae has been disturbed,” he explains.
In 1999, the authorities managed to keep the pest in check by spraying insecticides from a helicopter.
But for the past four years, the cedar sawfly population has again been swelling.
With chemical pesticides now banned, park authorities have resorted to a more natural, though less efficient treatment: injecting a fungus into the ground to kill the sleeping grubs.
The authorities have backed the initiative so far, but it’s a mammoth task that needs more funding, man power and laboratories, Nemer says.
He says he hopes the state can increase its support, including by creating a nationwide authority to track “forest health”.

Forests cover just over a tenth of Lebanon. They are mostly made up of oaks, pines and juniper trees, but also a minority of cedars.
As scientists fight to prevent cedar deaths, the government has embarked in a race against time to replenish the country’s forests.
Since 2012, it has helped plant more than two million new trees of all kinds across the country, agriculture ministry official Chadi Mohanna says.
The project is running a little late on a target of 40 million planted trees by 2030, but he is optimistic it will help mitigate climate change.
“In the next 20 to 30 years, we’ll start to see a change, with more humidity, and several degrees less during heat waves,” he says.
And civil society is also playing a role.
Since 2008, non-governmental organisation Jouzour Lubnan has put 300,000 new trees in the ground.
On a recent sunny Sunday, in the rocky natural reserve of Jaj, dozens of scouts gathered to plant cedars, as Jouzour teamed up with the army to mark independence day.
Beyond centuries-old trees hugging the mountainside, boys and girls in blue shirts planted 300 saplings just a dozen centimetres high.
They protected them with bell-shaped cages and rocks to keep grazing animals at bay.
“Cedars have survived millions of years. They can also take on climate change and adapt,” said Jouzour co-founder Magda Bou Dagher Kharrat.
“We can’t lose hope, but we do need to help them.”


Media blitz as Palestinians oppose ‘Deal of the Century’

Updated 26 June 2019

Media blitz as Palestinians oppose ‘Deal of the Century’

  • A number of Palestinian officials talked to a number of media outlets in an attempt to counter the US narrative

AMMAN: Palestinian officials, activists and the public at large stood unusually united on Tuesday in their opposition to the US-led, economic-based Israeli-Palestinian peace effort. They launched a wide-ranging public and media blitz in protest against the start of the two-day Peace to Prosperity economic workshop in Bahrain.

Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Milhem told Arab News that watching Jared Kushner make his opening speech at the workshop about the so-called “Deal of the Century” reminded him of the financial machinations of Wall Street.

“I saw a salesman trying to push a particular product, talking about numbers and opportunities without the slightest interest in the fact that he was talking about our lives and our situation,” he said.

Milhem and other Palestinian officials talked to a number of media outlets in an attempt to counter the US narrative. President Mahmoud Abbas, who presides over a divided authority that is in perpetual financial crisis and depends on donor nations, invited members of the Foreign Press Association to his Ramallah headquarters. “We need the money and, really, we need assistance,” he told them. “But before everything, there is a political solution.”

Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh appeared on the Christiane Amanpour program on CNN International and wrote a column for the Washington Post headlined “Palestinians want freedom not Trump administration bribes.”

After Kushner’s speech, political analyst Lamis Andoni said that Palestinians are being asked to accept that if the prison conditions under which they live are to improve, the occupation
will continue. The US proposal is designed to silence Palestinians by giving them enough to survive, while giving a minority the chance to get rich, he said. “It didn’t work before and will not work now,” he added.

Husam Zulmot, head of the Palestine mission in the UK and former head of the Washington DC mission, said: “Palestine is not for sale.” He described Kushner’s plan as “deceptive” and “disingenuous,” arguing that it does not address the core issue: the occupation.

In Nablus, the deputy head of Fatah, Mahmoud Aloul, issued a stern warning to Arab participants in the Bahrain workshop: “We tell our brothers that they have stabbed us in the back and your intervention in our cause has gone overboard and we will not allow that.” He qualified this by adding: “The US and Israel will continue to be our enemy but we will not consider you enemies; we will leave you to your own people and hope that your hibernation will not last long.”

The Palestinian Al Quds daily newspaper ran the front page headline “Opposition to the Deal of the Century hold protests throughout the homeland and the diaspora,” with a photo of the demonstrations in Ramallah covering the rest of the front page. It also published a two-page supplement quoting politicians from a number of movements, including Fatah and Hamas, along with analysts and pundits, all criticizing the Manama workshop.

Hani Elmasri, the head of the Masarat think tank in Ramallah. wrote an article in which he said that the “Trump deal will not succeed without a Palestinian cover, and will fail sooner or later, but while the plan has not succeed in liquidating Palestinian nationalism it has succeeded in stressing the facts of the occupation and made the possibility of a Palestinian struggle much more difficult. This means that it is not enough for Palestinians to reject this plan but they need to respond with a holistic strategy that must be political, economic and has to be a struggle by the people on all levels.”