Environmental challenges facing our planet are unprecedented and facing them requires global efforts. These challenges are compounded in developing countries because of economic, education, and political issues. Palestine is unique in its position geographicaly at intersection of continents. This is combined with the geologic history due to tectonic plate movements that created the great rift valley (with the lowest point on earth at the Dead Sea) and a series of mountains from the Galilee to the Hebron mountains creating a very rich biodiversity for a very small area. Yet, Palestine was subjected to decades of de-development, the lack of Palestinian sovereignty over natural resources, and politics that trump environmental issues and create environmental challenges hard to deal with. Significant demographic shifts developed in the past several decades of Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Habitat destruction and environmental declines are notable [see research papers on this under the research tab]. But the question remains is there little to be done on the environmental and science front while we wait for the political situation to get resolved?
The Palestine Institute for Biodiversity and Sustainability (PIBS) and the Palestine Museum of Natural History (PMNH) at Bethlehem University (BU) were founded in 2014 for research, education and conservation. In the last year environmental conservation became a major focus after having done the appropriate research to allow us to focus on certain areas of significant biodiversity interest and having engaged in education that build capacity for conservation. PMNH/PIBS launched an Environmental Assessment Unit with oversight by experts like Prof. Mazin Qumsiyeh ((BU) and Prof. Zuhair Amr (Jordan) and with collaboration and consultation with the Environmental Quality Authority (EQA) and key stakeholders (Ministry of Education, local authorities, farmers, environmentalists and more).
For details on Conservation issues in Palestine we (MB Qumsiyeh and ZS Amr edited by Hans Seidel Foundation) published a report titled “Environmental Conservation and Protected Areas in Palestine: Challenges and Opportunities” (2017, available here ). Here are also three examples of achievements in the conservation sector for PIBS/PMNH at BU:
As an example, the project on Wadi Al-Zarqa Al-Ulwi funded by UNDP/GEF/SGP achieved the following: 1) surveying the fauna and flora of the area to identify the species at risk, 2) performing a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats) of the area and providing practical recommendations for action that maximize benefit while minimizing use of resources, 3) reaching out to the community via tested permaculture models and environmental education programs (women, school children, and farmers) to enhance community buy-in and increase community benefits from environmental conservation and 4) increasing local community and students’ public awareness through a series of 10 workshops. The total beneficiaries were 493, including 200 students (more than 50% female) and 293 adults. The two objectives accomplished via education were: a) increased environmental awareness and behavioral change to conserve ecosystems in WZU, and b) introduced methods that improve people’s lives and the economy via things like permaculture, recycling, upcycling, and composting (many started implementing these practices).
The Convention on Biological Diversity adopted at the Earth Summit Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, highlighted three key principles: conservation of biological diversity, sustainable use of nature, and fair and equitable sharing of the benefits. Our work shows the value of combining basic research with education and conservation and with collaboration between academia, NGOs, and government officials and succeeding with limited resources. Much more remains to be done. We have limited resources and human capacity so we welcome collaborations and support both from local and global activists to help us protect our shared blue planet.
Some birds recorded from the Wadi Zarqa protected area. A. European Bee-eater. B. Syrian Woodpecker. C. Little Owl. D. White-throated Kingfisher. E. Mallard. F. Cattle Egret. Photos by A. Khalilieh