Words Nour Masri *
The Qaraoun Catchment feeds Lebanon’s big- gest and longest river, the Litani. This catchment is a critical source of water for food production and urban use, and it provides habitats, including important forests and wetlands. The ability of the catchment to provide essential ecosystem services is being undermined by accelerating land degradation, which is resulting from deforestation, excessive firewood collection, overgrazing, inappropriately-placed infrastructure, unplanned expansion of urban and informal settlements, and loss of agricultural fields to competing land uses.
Qaraoun SLM Project
To address, both, the causes and effects of land degradation in the Qaraoun Catchment, the Government of Lebanon has partnered with the UNDP to implement a GEF-financed Sustainable Land Management Project (Qaraoun SLM Project).
One of the root causes of land degradation in the Qaraoun catchment, and elsewhere in Lebanon, has been the lack of an integrated approach to land-use planning and management. Although policies and plans, including land-use zonation plans, are in place, they still have a narrow sectoral focus and do not specifically take land degradation into account. Weak coordination and overlapping mandates, across institutions, have also meant that application and enforcement of national plans and policies relat- ing to land-use are problematic.
The Qaraoun SLM Project provides a strategic and integrated landscape approach to address these challenges, among others. They do so by strengthening the ‘master planning’ approach that is already operating within the country. The approach embeds sustainable land management principles into land-use planning and identifies methods of protecting resources. The local level forests, rangelands, and arable lands, which are currently weakly managed or degraded, will be prioritized in comprehensive land-use plans to ensure that sustainable land management measures are put in place. This maintains the flow of vital ecosystem services and averts local-level conflicts between land users. Furthermore, the project helps in acquiring a robust decision-support system, including a Strategic Environmental Assessment and an effective monitoring system for tracking land conditions. Consequently, a corrective action can be taken before degradation becomes irreversible. Restoration of degraded forests, rangelands, and arable lands will be among the key strategies promoted by the Project to restore watershed services, such as preventing soil erosion, protecting water sources, and supporting sustainable forest-based livelihoods. The Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Agriculture have combined their efforts in support of the above-mentioned.
The causes of land degradation operate at multiple scales and in many different places across Lebanon, particularly in the Qaraoun Catchment, where the large-scale movement of displaced people adds an extra layer of complexity to land-use patterns. Under these circumstances, it is difficult to monitor resource use and enforce compliance with existing land-use regulations. Added to this dilemma are the excessive use of harmful pesticides on commercial farms, the increase of polluted water-bodies, the unwise and unplanned urban settlement, and the increased incidence of drought and damaging wildfires. Therefore, the need for an integrated approach to land-use regulation becomes obvious. It is in this context that the improvement of local capacities and enforcement will engage land users in participatory planning processes. If people are directly involved in the development of land-use plans, they may be liable to comply with their provisions. The aim is to shift land stewardship mindsets from ‘deplete-abandon-migrate’ to ‘restore-sustain-protect’ in order to reduce pressures on forests, rangelands, and water resources while ensuring that the livelihood and security needs of the community are met in an equitable and sustainable manner.
* UNDP, Project Manager, Sustainable Land Management in the Qaraoun Catchment