Seasonal wildfires have returned to Lebanon; this time, fires began raging across the pine forests of towns in the north.
What initially started as fires in Akkar’s al-Qatlabah on Wednesday quickly spread to Qoubaiyat, reaching the homes of local residents. The fires continued ripping across the north overnight and into Thursday as wind speeds exacerbated the wildfires.
The fire has since been “largely contained,” said Antoine Daher, president of the environment council of Qoubaiyat,
But there are some areas where the fire is still out of control. “The ones [areas] with a rough surface and which are hardly reached,” Daher said when asked to elaborate.
Lebanon’s civil defense said that it had dispatched 420 members alongside 50 firetrucks. Another 17 ambulances were on the ground to provide medical assistance to the distressed residents and civil defense personnel.
A teenager was killed while helping battle the flames, with another two local residents hospitalized.
Although the cause of the fire is still unknown, Lebanon is no stranger to wildfires.
Fires that erupted in the summer of 2019 drew the ire of the Lebanese people as the government stood by and watched as state-owned helicopters stayed grounded.
At the time, a government official said there was no money in the state’s treasury to carry out the needed maintenance on the Sikorsky helicopters.
Days later, nationwide anti-government protests rocked the country, with hundreds of thousands of protesters demanding the government's resignation.
Lebanon’s political elite, widely seen as corrupt and responsible for the country's unprecedented crisis, seem to have ignored repeated warnings of wildfires - again - this year.
An online government platform meant to monitor and warn the potential for wildfires is available.
“Have [the Interior and Health Ministries] check it? What have they done based on the data?” Executive Director of the Samir Kassir Foundation Ayman Mhanna tweeted.
LebGov has a system to monitor fire risk thru @impact_gov for many months. It's been weeks https://t.co/EZqev6hPeX has shown the risk of fire esp in #Akkar with a very concerning fire risk map. Have @moim_lebanon @MoE_Lb_Official checked it? What have they done based on the data?— Ayman Mhanna (@AymanMhanna) July 29, 2021
Lebanese politicians have also failed to address the growing climate change concerns.
Aubin Gildas Kombila, a doctor in geography at the University of Pau and the Pays de l’Adour (UPPA) explained that climate change increases the intensity and the frequency of wildfires as drier and warmer conditions make lands easily combustible.
Kombila underlined the need to develop a well-rounded wildfire and forest management plan anticipating changes in weather conditions.
Lebanon’s ability to develop territorial planning, take appropriate action, and ensure crisis management is directly impacted by the prevailing economic situation, analysts and experts believe.
The wildfires now add to the worsening economic situation in Lebanon, impacting food security and the availability of various resources, including medical supplies, electricity, and fuel.
Reforms are needed on all levels to assure the safety and well-being of the Lebanese population.
As a result of the weak state institutions, this week’s wildfires were largely being fought by local residents who rang church bells to alert nearby towns of the looming disaster, Jamal Massouh, a local resident, told Al Arabiya English.
Lebanon’s National Agency has announced and mourned the death of one of the volunteers who was trying to extinguish the #fires in Kaftoun village in northern #Lebanon.https://t.co/1RAa4QyGU3 pic.twitter.com/VGDPwz1Mhv— Al Arabiya English (@AlArabiya_Eng) July 28, 2021
Despite efforts to contain the fires, properties were damaged, and acres of oak and pine forests were torched. According to people on the ground, insurance companies - for those who have insurance policies - have been struggling to provide any compensation for various incidents and accidents.
The collapse of the local currency has been the main obstacle for insurance companies.
Daher explained that the worsening economic situation impacted the ability of emergency services to act. “Firefighting trucks took long to arrive as in Lebanon vehicles queue for hours at gas stations to fill their tanks, and in the meantime, the fire was spreading and eating up a larger area,” he told Al Arabiya English.
And as Lebanon approaches the first anniversary of the devastating Port of Beirut blast, no one has been held accountable, and families of victims await answers.
As for the wildfires in the north this week, it remains to be seen if the government will act to find out what caused them.
“We have not yet heard that any investigation was initiated. It is important to know the source of the problem, especially in managing wildfires, to address the issue and mitigate future risks,” Daher said.
Read more: Teenager dies in Lebanon wildfires