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Himas Fight Degradation

Lebanon revives ancient protection for IBAs

The Society for Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL, BirdLife in Lebanon), is reviving the hima, a traditional system under which communities manage natural areas such as woodlands, grasslands and wetlands, and protect them from over-exploitation. Two himas have been established in areas of high biodiversity, Ebel es-Saqi (a potential IBA, and raptor flyway bottleneck), and the Kfar Zabad marshlands. Following Municipal Council decisions, hunting has been banned at both sites.

"Our main work revolves around identification, conservation and monitoring of IBAs," explained Bassima Khatib, SPNL's Soaring Bird Project Manager and Community Empowerment Coordinator. "For the conservation of these IBAs, SPNL is promoting the hima system, which depends on local community decisions for the protection of sites and sustainability of natural resources."Dating back at least to the sixth century, the hima system began to decline with modern changes in land use and transport, and the availability of imported livestock feed and other substitutes for natural resources. The hima system allows a mixture of strict protection and sustainable use, and one of its side effects has been the preservation of biodiversity. One hima in Saudi Arabia for example was found to have vegetation cover of 47 percent, compared to just 8 percent outside the hima. As well as serving as refuges for birds and other wildlife, himas have great potential as seedbanks for regenerating the degraded lands around them.

"SPNL believes that sustainability in the conservation of natural sites is more ensured when local people are involved." Bassima Khatib added.SPNL believes that with its roots in traditional practice and Islamic law, as well as its greater recognition of the needs and rights of local people, the hima will be more acceptable and effective than centralised protected area systems.

Together with the IUCN (World Conservation Union), SPNL, is advocating the revival of the hima system throughout North Africa and the Middle East, and is appealing for information about himas in other countries. SPNL's Director General, Assad Serhal, has been instrumental in leading on this.

For further information please contact: Bassima Khatib, SPNL's Soaring Bird Project Manager and Community Empowerment Coordinator, mailto:bkhatib@cyberia.net.lb

4th July 2014