13 October 2019 – this is the latest date when fires broke out in tens of acres of forests in Lebanon. Such incidences have been common in many parts of the world including Africa, Brazil, Indonesia, and Russia. For example, in August 2019, the National Institute for Space Research recorded an 84% increase in fires in the Amazon rainforest of Brazil.
Lebanon, in particular, has lost hundreds of acres of forests to fires causing huge economic and ecological damage. Sometimes, even the loss of human life. The country’s forests have shrunk below 12%. In 2007, the Association for Forest Development and Conservation (AFDC), an NGO, produced a forest fire map. The data revealed that 28% of the total surface area of Lebanon is critically threatened by fires.
One could imagine. What is the cause behind such wildfires that destroy our forests? Predominating climatic conditions are proved to be the main culprits. Lebanon has been experiencing prolonged summers that have extended from June to October (due to climate change). During this period, there is practically no rain and the temperatures exceed 30°C. Consequently, this reduces the moisture content of forest litter to less than 5%. Hence, under such conditions, even a small increase of heat from a spark, a match, a cigarette butt or lightning can be enough to lead to a violent blaze. Furthermore, the steep slopes and the strong dehydrating summer and dry autumn winds worsen the condition.
Lebanon’s Forest Geography
Lebanon is chiefly a mountainous country with trees as old as 1000 years or even more. The most favourable condition for these trees is moisture and cool temperatures. However, the constant human interference with nature; and climate change have been ravaging the Cedars of the country. Cedar is the principal tree species of Lebanon. As per scholars, if GHG emissions continue to rise, Cedars would be found only on the highest altitude of the country – by 2100. This will bring significant imbalance in the natural ecosystem.
Going further north, the country’s Tannourine Cedars Forest Nature Reserve has lost over 7% of trees to insect infestations. This has been found to have a direct link with a warm and drying climate. A climate like this is favourable for sawfly – the culprit behind the infestation. Lebanon’s Cedars of God in the north, a world heritage site has been recognised as most vulnerable to climate change by UNESCO.
The Urgent Need
Lack of data on forest fires and their causes is reported to be a major barrier in understanding the nature of these wildfires. Policy-makers need the information to specify the extent and urgency of the problem. This will allow them to prioritise fundamental measures and develop much-needed strategies.
Smart Forests As A Solution
A leading smart city technology and app development company, Eurisko Mobility came up with an advanced system to fight forest fires. Recently, the Lebanon-based company in collaboration with the Cedar International Festival committee launched “Smart Forest” initiative across 7 forests in the country.
Eurisko Mobility has developed Smart Forest tool by integrating IoT, AI and machine learning to closely monitor the forests. This tool will learn the distinct characteristics of each forest. The data gathered will then be used to predict fire risks as well as fires resulting from non-natural factors through ‘outlier detection.’ The amount of data collected will improve the Fire Risk Index Precision deal with climate change via Unsupervised Machine Learning.
Using an interactive dashboard, the system facilitates a comparison between historical metrics and real-time data. This data will notify the details about soil and air temperature, humidity, atmospheric pressure, wind speed and CO2 emissions amongst other factors.
In addition, Smart Forest comprises an automated Notification Engine that is triggered by an increase in fire risk or GHG emissions. In case something is wrong, the engine will instantly send emails, SMS, automated phone calls and push notifications to specific response departments. These may include civil defence municipalities or NGOs, considering the level/type of danger involved.
Eurisko Mobility recently stated that traditional solutions are now turning obsolete. The reasons are that they are developed on static mathematical formulas which cannot inform the required specific natural characteristics of the forest. Besides, they provide predictions that are inaccurate and cannot be applied to various types of forests in various parts of the world.
Further, the company announced that Smart Forest is set to be a country-wide scale project with a clear and detailed plan. From data compilation to preparation and processing to choose optimal AI/machine learning models for each forest. Everything has been put in place. A centralised system has been developed to link all forests together. The organisation has also revealed future plans for integrating the Smart Forest system with drones. The technology will help collect real-time photos and geographic coordinates of wildfires.
The founders of Eurisko Mobility, Ziad Tawk and Edgard Tawk have fully sponsored the Smart Forest initiative. This includes the development, deployment and maintenance of the system in seven forests which were worst affected by recent fires. The total cost of the entire project has been estimated to be USD$700,000 for the seven forests.
In fact, Ziad Tawk revealed that his company has offered the system without any cost to the Lebanese government to deploy it in remaining forests of the country.
The Smart Forest system is anticipated to support Lebanon to fight the sustainability threat that is currently affecting the region. It is an inspiring model of how forests can be preserved to fight the intensifying climate change causing miscellaneous problems. Forest fire is just one of them.
How Depleting Forests Will Hit Smart Cities?
Meg Lowman, director of the Tree Foundation, a non-profit in Florida says “Forests are the lifeline of our world.” Without them, the essential functions of life on Earth would be lost. This can severely affect human habitats including smart cities that are on the road to expensive technological developments.
Coming to the point, trees are huge storage tanks of carbon. As per the recent IPCC report, deforestation is already responsible for 13% of the global carbon emissions. In addition, trees contribute massively to vital natural processes from soil conservation to water cycle regulation. As far as humans are concerned, they support our food systems and provide building material to us – and other endless species on Earth. Take, for instance, wood, that is being recognised as one of the most sustainable building material for smart cities.
As published in the journal Nature, in 2015, forests have decreased by 32%, since the incipience of the industrial era. Trees are irreplaceable and without them, Earth might not be able to nurture us anymore. This is as said by Isabel Rosa, a professor in environmental data and analysis at Bangor University.
Most importantly, even fully sustainable cities with near-zero carbon emissions will not be able to reverse climate change at the pace of trees. Therefore, it is crucial to conserve forests and every single tree in it. Because even a single tree is an important ecosystem in itself. In 2018, JA Prevedello, professor at Rio de Janeiro University conducted a study with his colleagues. He found out that overall species richness was 50 to 100% higher in areas with scattered trees than in open areas. Hence, protecting or growing a single tree could heavily impact the local biodiversity of a place.
Naturally, smart cities and their technology can improve the lives of the residents – economically and socially. However, environmentally, it is only the natural balance of Earth that can provide humans with healthy air to breathe. And trees are at the heart of this nature’s balance.