LIBYA

Libya's few forests are rapidly shrinking

 The Libyan city of Benghazi has been making headlines lately due to violence in the region, but its ecological balance is also worrying one of our Observers. If things continue as they are, there will soon be no trees left in the Jira forest.  

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Screen capture of a video showing the forest with trees that have been chopped down.

 

 

The Libyan city of Benghazi has been making headlines lately due to violence in the region, but its ecological balance is also worrying one of our Observers. If things continue as they are, there will soon be no trees left in the Jira forest.

 

The Jira forest is located around 60 kilometres from Benghazi and spreads over some 300 hectares. It is part of an area known as “The Green Mountain”, the most fertile and humid region of Libya, with abundant forests and agricultural land.

 

For more than a year now, hundreds of trees in this forest have been cut down by locals, so much so that one part of the forest has already been razed to the ground. At the same time, a fire last April burnt more than 80 hectares of forests. The cause of the blaze has not been discovered.

 

Video of felled trees in a forest, as filmed by our Observer.

“It’s hard to garner public support for trees when people’s lives are in danger”

Abdulhammed Amrooni is one of the bloggers of the Libyablog network, a project run jointly by FRANCE 24 and RFI.

 

The Jira forest has always been a place for Libyan families in the region to picnic during weekends or during the holidays.

 

Charcoal manufacturers are the main culprits behind this deforestation: they cut down the trees, leave them, then come back after a few days once the wood has dried and sell them to restaurants. I’ve seen these people at work as I was driving by.

 

Furthermore, some residents have an interest in seeing the trees chopped down. A few decades ago, land was purchased by the state from individuals in order for trees to be planted there. My grandfather, for example, took part in the scheme. However, a lot of people believe that this land, when there are no more trees on it, should rightfully be theirs again to do as they wish with, for example plant crops.

 

During Gaddafi’s rule, we sometimes saw cut-down trees, but they were few and far between, and the agricultural police [police in charge of surveillance of forests] would go in and deal with this. At the time, the police were equipped with four-wheel drives to help them to cover the entire forest territory. But during the uprising, these vehicles were used by the revolutionaries during combat and were never returned [when contacted by FRANCE 24, the chief of the agricultural police in the Al Abyar region, where the Jira forest is located, said his team only has one car of this kind].

 

“The agricultural police have called in militiamen to protect the forest”

 

Another consequence of the revolution is the anarchy that now reigns within law enforcement agencies. Some members of the agricultural police do their own thing and refuse to obey whenever they are asked to patrol the zone.

 

Moreover, the agricultural police are not armed, and so they fear being attacked by tree cutters who may be armed. A few months ago, they even called in militiamen to protect the forest. They initially accepted. But as the tree cutters didn’t show up anymore, the militiamen didn’t arrest anyone and they ended up leaving, refusing to stay around and do nothing.

 

I have tried to motivate my fellow citizens to do something about this. After filming the cut-down trees, I uploaded the video to the Internet and spoke about it to people around me. Some friends were ready to set up a network of forest guards to keep a watch on Jira. Unfortunately, with all the problems going on in Benghazi today, notably security issues and religious extremism, the environmental cause has fallen by the wayside. It’s hard to garner public support for trees when people’s lives are in danger.

 

I do hope the authorities will quickly realise that we are facing major deforestation [Editor’s Note: 400 new forest guards are being trained at the moment, according to the agricultural police’s chief]. Libya is mostly desert land. Most of the forests are found in the north-east region. If these are razed, there will be nothing to fight against erosion.