Hisham was forced to work in cutting trees to provide for his family of 12 people, despite holding no conviction in his line of work; he very well sees the danger to the East Ghouta as a result of the loss of this vast amount of fruit trees.
The Ghouta, famed as a forest of fruit trees, has been turned into a desert-like arid area; for out of the circa 250 thousand apricot trees in Zebdine, for example, no more than 40 thousand trees remain, according to agricultural engineer Ayyoub.
According to Ayyoub, more than 85% of the fruit trees were eradicated as a result of the siege imposed on the eastern Ghouta by the Syrian regime forces; by poverty; hunger; and the sore lack of fuel.
Ayyoub and warns that "the continued illegal logging will cause Syria to lose most types of fruits and jams; but that, within five years, that wealth can be restored if the Ghouta reforestation effort commences immediately."
Between Heating and Traders' Rapacity!
Abu Imad currently works on the re-planting trees which were bombed by regime forces. Bombardment is the cause behind the death and decimation of trees; but Abu Imad blames the rapacity of traders as well.
He believes that the need for heating has forced many people to cut trees down, but this is still not enough to Ghouta's loss of such a huge number of trees.
Engineer Ayoub attributed the illegal logging of trees to the siege; many Ghouta men were forced to cut the trees down and sell them to save their children from starvation. He believes that the Ghouta is in dire need of a plan for its reforestation and protection.
He also confirms that it is those responsible for the protection of trees—in accordance to the Ghouta Shariah Board's directives—that are cutting them down. Many elements of the opposition factions as well as land owners are involved in this illegal logging, with no deterrent; the Ghouta will therefore require a new team to work on the protection of fruit trees—as Ayyoub sees it.
Where Are the Opposition's Institutions?
The Ghouta shed its normal vibrant colors this spring, as a result of its inhabitants being forced to cut the trees down. Says Abu Imad: "Before, you would not be able to see farther than ten meters, you would not be able the street [due to the thick trees]. Now you can see the Douma Corniche from Harasta [some 12—15 kms away]."
Mostly damaged were the olive trees, much sought after due to the quality of their wood as a healthy way to keep warm. This affects both olive and oil prices. The solution would be to impose conditions for cutting trees, by planting other trees in their stead according to Abu Imad, who asks: "Where is the Syrian opposition from what is happening in the Ghouta?"
Dr. Abdul Salam Haj-Hamed, an agriculture official in the Syrian interim government, says that the Ministry of Agriculture's Strategic Plan comprises the rehabilitation of the agricultural sector in all of Syria—particularly in the besieged areas, via small projects as part of a series of long-term projects.
Abdul Salam adds that: "the Ministry of Agriculture is currently working in collaboration with the Assistance Coordination Unit [ACU] on a plan for the rehabilitation of some nurseries and reinvest in tme again for the production of some trees—particularly olive, almond, apple, and pear trees in the Ghouta; due to the fact that this region already has the required infrastructure for such projects."
All the above notwithstanding, the interim government has been without salaries for months on end now; while the Ghouta that used to boast its groves that no longer are productive, looks more and more at risk under a prolonged siege that has persisted for more than two years.