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French Version

Arab world gets new environment forum

The establishment of a regional environmental organization with responsibility for raising awareness across the Arab world and lobbying for environmentally sound development policies was announced Saturday at the closure of the Arab Public Opinion and the Environment conference.

The Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), which will be based

in Beirut, was launched by the organization's president, Mustafa Tolba, a leading environmental expert, and its secretary general, Najib Saab, editor in chief of Pan-Arab Environment and Development magazine, in addition to other distinguished environmental figures from the Arab region.

Among the 10 Arab founding members is the head of Lebanon's parliamentary majority, Saad Hariri, whose father, slain Premier Rafik Hariri, endorsed the project, according to Saab.

"The major aim of the forum is spreading environmental knowledge by supporting environmental education, media and NGOs that are working in the environmental field," Saab said.

For Tolba, the forum is not a platform for attacking businessmen, authorities and industrialists, but "a place for constructive dialogue with these parties and of scientific analysis of current environmental issues."

Tolba said the forum will establish links with research centers and that part of the reason for the deterioration of the region's natural resources is because levels of environmental awareness among Arabs are low.

The forum's members did not reveal the internal regulations of their organization, saying that they were waiting for the official approval of the Lebanese Cabinet to establish AFED in Beirut. But, according to a statement, the initiative has already received support from Lebanese Premier Fouad Siniora as well as the Arab League and the UN Environmental Program.

AFED's vice president, Abdel-Rahman al-Awadi, said that the forum would be funded by donations rather than government subsidies, but refused to elaborate, "until the organization was officially recognized by the Lebanese authorities."

The two-day conference was organized in celebration of Environment and Development magazine's tenth anniversary and speakers were invited to discuss the results of a new survey conducted on Arabs' views on the environment.

Following the discussion of the relation between the media and the environment Friday, Saturday's session focused on case studies from environmental associations working in different Arab countries.

Speakers talked about their experiences in opposing projects threatening the environment and advocating for better use of natural resources.

Abdel-Aziz al-Jundi, head of Alexandria's Friends of the Environment, said that his association had so far won 25 court rulings against local authorities, some of which led to the freezing of projects "violating people's rights to have access to public beauty spots."

From Bahrain, Khawla al-Muhanadi, head of a local environmental association, spoke about her group's media campaigns and protests to prevent construction works from destroying the island's "green belt" of palm trees.

Greenpeace activist Wael Hmaydan stressed the importance of the interaction between local and international organizations in carrying out environmental campaigns.

Hmaydan said the specificity of Greenpeace was "its long-term campaigns strategies and campaigns," in addition to fighting global problems such as nuclear power and weapons.

Raed El Rafei
The Daily Star

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