We are pleased to welcome Akkar Trail to our Med-O-Med Network as a training and raising awareness initiative working for the achievement of a sustainable development and the conservation of the natural and cultural environment. Located in the governorate of Akkar – the northernmost in Lebanon – the NGO plays a very important role in raising awareness, support local populations and protecting the nature of one of the most diverse and beautiful regions of Lebanon.
The Akkar governate, a region between sea and mountain
The recent governate of Akkar – created in 2003 – is composed of a single district, which bears the same name, and its capital is the city of Halba. It is bounded by the Mediterranean Sea to the west, the governorate of the North to the south, the governorate of Baalbek-Hermel to the southeast, and the Syrian governorates of Tartous and Homs to the north and northeast.
Its proximity to Syria has made it one of the districts hosting the most Syrian refugees since the war began in 2011. According to UNCHR, 152,000 Syrian refugees and 23,400 Palestinian refugees resided in the Akkar Governorate in 2019. Akkar is also one of the most deprived regions in Lebanon, especially the Upper Akkar where employment opportunities are sorely lacking. Initiatives and projects for sustainable development that will benefit all populations seem crucial, especially in times of pandemic and economic crisis, when many people have lost their main source of income, in particular for tourism-related jobs.
The Akkar Governorate is also considered the most rural district of Lebanon, with 80% of residents living in rural areas. In fact the western coastal plain of the governorate is the second largest agricultural area in Lebanon after the Beqaa Valley. Meanwhile, the East has important forested mountains with protected areas such as the El Kamoua National Park. Lebanon’s Ministry of Environment has given this region a status of protection due to its singularity and beauty, and the fact that it has one or more natural features of exceptional importance.
In 2004, the Lebanese government designed a National Master Plan for Lebanon which included recommendations for the Upper Akkar area in order to safeguard the extraordinary biodiversity and landscapes in the region.
Initiatives and projects for sustainable development that will benefit all populations seem crucial, especially in times of pandemic and economic crisis, when many people have lost their main source of income, in particular for tourism-related jobs.
Indeed, in addition to being one of the most diverse territories, it is also an essential biodiversity repository which contains around 70% of the plant species known in Lebanon. The protection of this area seems to be crucial, while the development could help the inhabitants who are suffering an important economic and social crisis like in the rest of Lebanon.
An eco-tourism project in Akkar
Akkar Trail is a project aiming at the development of human and material infrastructure for ecotourism, based on mountain hiking trails within the Akkar governorate. Eco-tourism refers to the development of a sustainable tourism with a focus on nature and culture, respectful with the environment and aiming to empower the local communities.
This project is all the more important as some reports show that, since the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic crisis and amidst the economic crisis in which Lebanon finds itself, conservation works to preserve ecosystems in tourist areas are facing a huge crisis, following the collapse of ecotourism due to the mobility and travel restrictions. At the same time, the pandemic has been an important reminder of the urgency to reset our relationship with nature.
Akkar Trail is a project aiming at the development of human and material infrastructure for ecotourism, based on mountain hiking trails within the Akkar governorate.
The association also seeks to develop the different types of outdoor sports practiced on these trails and are working to establish a network with the local community in order to actively support its economy and to contribute to the achievement of sustainable development.
For this purpose, Akkar Trail Association was established with the following goals:
- Enhancing environmental awareness in the Akkar governorate and directing it towards the protection and preservation of nature through targeted environmental and awareness campaigns.
- Activating eco-tourism and outdoor sports on mountain hiking trails in Akkar and raising the level of its sustainable contribution to the local economy, through networking with the local community.
- Rehabilitation and reclamation of mountain hiking trails, taking care of them, documenting the environmental and ecological diversity on them, and training and qualifying local mountain guides for this task.
Work and achievements of Akkar Trail
Akkar Trail work can be divided into two axes: the protection of nature and biodiversity and the promotion of education and raisin-awareness activities.
Protection of the nature and biodiversity
In the frame of their mission, Akkar Trail has identify dozens of walking paths and is working to reclaim, rehabilitate and take care of them. In other words, they promote new trails and rehabilitate old ones.
They are also documenting new species of plants and insects for the first time and are publishing these discoveries in international scientific publications and journals. They are doing an important work that enter in the frame of our Centers of Plant Diversity.
In the frame of the protection of the nature in the Akkar area, they are also preparing a team to combat forest fires and preparing a rapid intervention truck under the name “juniper”. In addition to participating in the protection of biodiversity, they offer training and professional opportunities.
Education and raising awareness achievements
Akkar Trail also works on environmental awareness and cultural/educational campaigns through different projects: by issuing a number of guidebooks, establishing the first environmental fever for some threatened species of plants in Akkar, and preparing a natural museum that includes all that has been documented (plants, insects, fossils, animals…).
In the framework of education, they have also promoted the networking with researchers and students, and help them in their research by providing all possible support. In this sense, they are also providing qualification and training of local mountain guides.
An environmental renaissance
All their activities are therefore part of a promotion of sustainable eco-tourism in Akkar, thanks to environmental awareness campaigns, organization of outdoor sports in all its forms and the marketing of local products, crafts made by local families.
Akkar Trail seeks to participate and cooperate with all parties and spectrums to achieve an environmental renaissance of the Akkar region that will bring sustainable benefits to local communities, providing them with economic resources within the framework of standards that consider the environment and guarantee the rights of future generations.
We hope that its integration in the Med-O-Med network, which includes 23 countries of the Middle East and the Mediterranean, entails a successful and fruitful collaboration, filled with new projects and joint actions for the environmental renaissance in Akkar and in the rest of the region.
 Patrick Greenfield and Peter Muiruri. “Conservation in crisis: ecotourism collapse threatens communities and wildlife”, The Guardian, 05/05/2020.