Indigenous technique has long history of involving communities in protecting
their own environment
By Maria Abi-Habib
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, January 17, 2007
BEIRUT: Nature conservation in Lebanon now has a new face with the revival of
the hima, a 1,000-year-old method of sustainable development. The Society for
the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL) is building partnerships with
villages to create himas - areas in which wildlife and natural resources are
protected from exploitation and used in a responsible manner.
"The idea behind himas is the hima versus the nature reserve. Himas are
community-based conservation," says SPNL general director Assad Serhal. "Nature
reserves ... in the Middle East are a translation of the Western system to
conserve biodiversity. The hima is from our region and has evolved over time to
include sustainability to allow us to use nature for our survival, whereas in
nature reserves you can't even step into the area."
Himas give back to the community by generating income with ecotourism activities
such as hiking. Traditional businesses will also be revived, including basket
weaving and bed and breakfasts.
"The human angle here is very important," says Serhal. "We can't only be
romantic about nature, [we also need to be] practical. For the local people
conservation is not enough; they want to see the profits and benefits. You have
to be realistic."
Himas were in use over 1,000 years ago in the Middle East, serving as communal
plots of land for sustainable use of wildlife and vegetation. The first modern
hima in Lebanon was created from a bird sanctuary in 2004, on land considered
an important bird area by Bird Life International (BLI).
Initially attempting to figure out how best to preserve the bird sanctuary, SPNL
decided himas were preferable to nature reserves across the country.
"We work for the birds and also for the people through the himas at the same
time," says Ibrahim al-Khader, head of BLI's Middle East division. "People may
be the problem, but they are also the solution."
Two land himas have already been created in Lebanon, the first in Ibl as-Saqi in
Marjayoun and the other in Kfar Zabad, in the Bekaa. A marine hima is also under
construction off the coast of Qleileh, outside Tyre.
In an attempt to raise awareness of the himas' benefits, the SPNL announced
Tuesday that it has published the first Arabic translation of Richard Porter's
"Field Guide to the Birds of the Middle East."
Porter is a UK-based ornithologist and conservation expert. The book was first
published in English in 1996 and is the only field guide to the region's birds.
"Water conservation and the threat to wetlands from draining marshes are very
dangerous for Middle Eastern birds, but so are hunting and cutting down trees,"
Porter says. "The solution to this is to make people understand their
environment and then they'll see the threats it faces and want to help.
Hopefully this book will help their understanding."
"We train the villagers and provide them with capacity building and teach them
how to manage the hima in a sustainable way," says Khader. "You offer them
alternatives for income like ecotourism, a bed and breakfast and selling local
goods. At the same time you're teaching them about the benefits their land
offers - and we're not taking their land away from them" as opposed to
government-controlled nature reserves.
Serhal believes that people will continue to exploit natural resources as long
as they are marginalized from the process of conservation.
"If you don't involve the community, in times of hardship they'll scale the
fences of a ... reserve and exploit its resources," he says. "In a hima the
community owns everything - the medicinal and edible plants, water, birds or
fish - which we teach them to manage."
Lebanon will host a regional hima workshop in March.
"There used to be a hima in every village," says Serhal. "We only destroyed this
in the last 30-40 years, [isolating] from nature, and we've lost touch with