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Hima: A Methodology for Local Involvement in Distinctive Landscape Management

Bassima Khatib
Assistant Director General at Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon

Hima means "protected area" in Arabic. It is a traditional approach for the conservation of natural resources that has been prevalent in the Arabian Peninsula for more than 1,500 years. The Hima approach started with the tribal system and the need to secure their livelihood in harsh environments. Then, it evolved with the Islamic culture that added to it values such as equity, common good, equal opportunity and common decision making. One of its more important principles is that all individuals enjoy the rights of responsibly managing and using public natural resources, which can be seen as a valid response to the modern "tragedy of the commons" in communal lands management. 

The Hima in its concept is mainly an area that is used to promote a better livelihood for the people through sustainable use of its resources and protected for the benefit of all creatures of the environment. As such, it meets with the concept of landscape, as defined in the ELC (i.e. "an area, as perceived by people, whose character is the result of the action and interaction of natural and/or human factors") in many ways: both concepts have the key terms "area", "people", "action and interaction" as a base for their definition; they both link nature to culture and people; they both exceed the simple notions of "land" and "view", placing emphasis on how people perceive an area, how they act towards it, and what elements in that area they find valuable because these (elements) contribute to their survival. 

The importance of placing local communities in the leading role is cornerstone both to achieve effective conservation and to support transparency and democratisation in the decision-making process. After all, it is the local people who are the most knowledgeable of their land and only they can be the real stewards of their landscape and its natural resources that support their well-being. This is why conventional "top-down" conservation approaches in which local communities have no –or limited– say to the matter have long shown not to be effective. People seem to have more respect for "bottom-up" approaches, such as the Hima. Through the Hima, there has been a shift from technical / management capacities of land planning, to a user-friendly interactive framework that spatially summarises the risks and problems and sets out the vision and goals for each landscape –with the community, and for the community. Thus, the Hima approach marks as a reliable and efficient approach that can produce significant positive results in terms of preserving natural resources, conserving ecosystems and supporting local communities. 

Hima metodology has been prepared by the Society for the Protection of Nature in Lebanon (SPNL), SPNL's experience with the Hima revival initiative after eleven years of rigorous fieldwork and research resulted in great success stories in different parts of Lebanon. International recognition of these achievements was at its peak during the BirdLife World Congress that was held in Ottawa- Canada in June 2013. During the congress, SPNL was rewarded with BirdLife Partnership Award for the revival of the Hima approach and its contribution for biodiversity conservation and the protection of IBAs. 

In another context, the fifth IUCN World Conservation Congress that was held in Jeju- South Korea in October 2012 also recognized and adopted the Hima approach. Motion 122, "Promoting and Supporting Community based Resource Management and Conservation as a Foundation for Sustainable Development", recognized the Hima community conservation as a holistic approach that empowers local and traditional knowledge, and conserves natural resources and culture. Ninety five percent (95%) of the participants at that time voted for the adoption of Motion 122 that was presented by SPNL in cooperation with the Austrian Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Environment, and Water. 

Today, many organizations have adopted the Hima concept for being the most efficient participatory approach where communities manage their lands and conserve and ensure the sustainable use of natural resources such as BirdLife International, IUCN, MedWet, UN Women Fund for gender Equality and WANA Forum. It is adopted by the Ministry of Environment within the national draft decree for protected area management in Lebanon; also SPNL was the leader for the establishment of the "Hima Fund" in Qatar for the conservation of Hima and Globally Threatened Species.

The Hima concept participatory approach has been recently introduced to European countries through the Medscape project funded by the "Mediterranean Sea Basin Programme" which is part of the European Neighborhood Policy (ENP) and its financing instrument (European Neighborhood and Partnership Instrument - ENPI) for the period 2007-2013. MedScapes links together eight partners from four countries in the Mediterranean Basin for this two-year project: Cyprus, Greece, Jordan and Lebanon.

Experience in partner countries has shown that the partners' protected areas systems, such as SPA, Natura 2000, UNESCO geo-parks, etc, mandates the involvement and participation of the local communities in decision-making. But the current situation is often poorly implemented by informing the local communities only, through open meetings, rather than using an approach that involves the local community in analysing the situation and reaching its own conclusions. Based on the use of the Hima participatory framework during the case studies in the partner countries, the Hima bottom up participatory approaches has proven to be a highly useful methodology to empower the local communities and ensure their engagement in managing their distinctive landscapes. The Hima approach is inclusive, designed to preserve and protect ecosystems for the sustainable use of their resources by the people and for the people, while taking into account the social and cultural particularities of the area.

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