Civil tree planting campaign in As-Suwayda

Volunteers from an afforestation campaign on the al-Roum Dam Road in the As-Suwayda province - 25 December 2020 (Enab Baladi)

Volunteers from an afforestation campaign on the al-Roum Dam Road in the As-Suwayda province - 25 December 2020 (Enab Baladi)

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Enab Baladi – As-Suwayda

In Tishreen Square, in As-Suwayda city center, Sheikh Suleiman awaits the arrival of the volunteers participating in the “We want to make As-Suwayda a paradise” campaign. His vehicle is loaded with various types of seedlings.

The campaign was launched in the Thahir al-Jabal area, on the al-Roum Dam Road, more than two weeks ago.

The thirty-something man announced the campaign on his Facebook page on 16 December 2020. He received hundreds of supportive comments expressing a desire to engage in the campaign’s activities. Only a modest number of people showed up, but those who participated were highly motivated and dedicated.

 Agriculture as a substitute for relief aid

Sheikh Suleiman Abdul Baqi chose to plant fruit-bearing trees such as pine, cypress, and almonds. He told Enab Baladi that hundreds of saplings had been planted and thousands more await plantation. “In the next stage, we will plant cinchona, olive, and pistachio trees.”

The fruits of planted trees will be allocated to the families that own the lands. The sheikh wrote on his page, “Do not teach people to beg and become jobless. The least these people can do is cultivate land, for agriculture means self-sufficiency.”

Since 2011, As-Suwayda has witnessed wildfires that burned vast areas of arable land in addition to damage from unlawful logging. This caused deforestation in some areas, including the al-Ayn forest south of the province, the Abd Mar forest in Salkhad city, and the Kanawat forest.

Fadi al-Shoufi, a young man from Salkhad city who participated in putting out the fires, told Enab Baladi that the effort of plowing and cultivating the land had gone to waste within hours because of the fires. Given that the government did not compensate the citizens for their losses, al-Shoufi believes that afforestation campaigns are the optimum solution for the province’s residents.

The shortage of diesel and heating fuel, as well as the government’s reduction of allocated fuel supplies, increased the need for alternative means, al-Shoufi said, pointing to the seriousness of relying on logging for heating and its effect on deforestation.

“The government is always late in distributing diesel fuel, and until this day, there are some people who did not receive their winter allocations,” Mazen Dabisi, a resident from As-Suwayda province, told Enab Baladi

“The distributed amount of diesel fuel is no more than 100 liters, which is not enough for a month, so people resort to cutting down trees for heating,” he added. 

Abdul Baqi posted on his Facebook page that the campaign’s volunteers saw an old man cut a tree that is tens of years old. The old man justified his act by saying, “I must keep my children warm.” Abdul Baqi wrote, “I told the old man, cut off the tree branches, not the whole tree. If you cut the tree off, one day you will need shade to keep you from the heat, but you will not find it.”

Abdul Baqi added that the aridity rate in As-Suwayda amounted to 80 percent.

According to statistics from the Syrian Ministry of Agriculture and Agrarian Reform in 2018, 36 percent of land in As-Suwayda province is arable, of which 17 percent is uncultivated. The percentage of non-arable land exceeds 24 percent, while meadows and pastures extend over 37 percent of the province’s area. Forestland in As-Suwayda covers only 1.4 percent.

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