A UNESCO Biosphere Reserve that has sheltered some of the few remaining specimens of the famous cedars of Lebanon and the only ones in the southern part of the country is at risk from the ongoing Israeli bombardment of Lebanon. The reserve contains 25 percent of the Cedrus libani forests that remain in Lebanon, where once cedar forests covered large areas of the mountains.
At the local level several of the cedar stands are recognized as outstanding scenic landscapes, the larger cedars contributing in a most distinctive way to the landscape. The western slope of the mountain, with the different patches of cedar forests gives way to the surrounding villages.
The area encompasses one of the few remaining natural landscapes of Mount Lebanon that were described in the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Old Testament as well as in countless documents throughout written history.
Hala Kilani of the IUCN-World Conservation Union wrote Friday of Nizar Hani, scientific coordinator of Al Shouf Cedar Biosphere Reserve, who says the reserve has been bombed.
The Shouf Biosphere Reserve has special significance for the protection of wildlife, representing the best prospect for the long-term conservation of the larger mammal species such as wolf, wild cat and striped hyena, according to UNESCO, the United Nations agency which designated the biosphere reserve in 2005.
A pond has been established on the upper slopes, to provide a source of drinking water for animals and to encourage them to stay within the reserve. But now the wildlife is stressed from the noise and air pollution of the exploding munitions and the drone of military aircraft, Hani says.
There are 28 villages in the transition area surrounding the reserve, where the main economic activities include agriculture and pastoralism, with the recent addition of tourism. The Al-Shouf Cedar Reserve and the Ammiq Wetland, which is also in the Shouf Biosphere Reserve, were becoming a major natural attraction for thousands of visitors to Lebanon and the region.
"We were expecting the number of visitors this summer to break the record of all previous years," Hani said. "Everything was indicating to this, including the number of people who arrived in June and the reservations of July and August. We were going to reap the fruits of what we sowed over so many years."
But those hopes have now become a memory.
Formerly South African Environment Minister, Moosa is no stranger to conflict. He says a sustainable future in the region requires "a robust economy, social equity and justice, and sound management of the natural resources."
"None of these goals can be advanced in time of armed conflict," Moosa said. "Bringing about peace, security and stability must be the priority - they are preconditions for sustainable development.