Middle East

Hima traditional land designation

Hima kfar zabad IBA. Photo: D.Thomas

Hima is a traditional system of land designation. It aims for the protection of land and the sustainable use of natural resources by and for the local communities surrounding the Hima. Traditionally it is a kind of zonation, where access to the Hima and its natural resources is instituted only for and controlled by a certain social group (usually a tribe or sub tribe). This control may include forbidding hunting, wood cutting and the destruction of trees and shrubs within the Hima.

Like other land designation systems, Himas have evolved and adapted to absorb and accommodate local, political, social, religious and economic changes. In countries like Lebanon, the authority over the Hima was later transferred to municipalities and other democratically elected bodies. The transfer ensured equity, and the fair use of resources whilst sustaining the natural resources. The Hima system can vary from one country to another and can also vary in the same country from one area to another.

Sustainable development means ‘wise economy to maintain living on the long term’ where maximum numbers of people gain benefits in present and future, this involves reviving the traditional system which has been crystalised during centuries of knowledge and practical experience on the ground.

Hima has with special importance where nature conservation policies has moved from the "traditional parks" model and fenced areas, towards conservation initiatives that rely on the knowledge and efforts of local communities, which is sometimes achieved through participation with local authorities. The Hima concept entails the conservation principles of increasing public participation, fair and wise use of natural resources, protection of local communities knowledge and traditions and recognition of their traditional rights.

Conservationists realise the unwise use of the modern economy which aims to bring the maximum income on the short term that causes destruction of future opportunities. Clearly the Badia has been used in the last decades in a way that exceeds its regeneration capacity that caused negative impacts, subsequently present and future generations will pay the price.

A new generation of protected areas that aims to bring benefits for people in the first place is under study in Syria, preventing Badia deterioration will bring relief to communities that are still dependent on traditional ways of living. The new protected areas by adopting the Hima principles according to the international standards, will help achieve sustainable development through helping people to discover their traditions and reaching a balance with nature.


Hima and Conservation Imperatives in the Middle East

The remaining Himas could be used actively as instruments for conservation and development. Many are located in areas of high species diversity, and many support key biological habitats. Their role, for example, as seed banks to rehabilitate the surrounding rangelands will become ever more valuable as grazing and development pressures increase. As they represent a range of areas that have been managed under protection for long periods of time, they provide an indicator of range health and potential under particular environmental conditions, and should be utilised for ecological research.

In particular, there is a need to demonstrate that protected areas are for the public good and to ensure that their benefits remain greater than their costs. This can only be done through close collaboration with the local people. The traditional management of Hima was close to the people who used them.

Hima promotes sustainable use of natural resources and conservation through understood traditions and systems:

  • It promotes responsibility and equity (an environmental ethic).
  • It is community-based and recognises the role, rights and values of local communities.
  • It values traditional practices and local knowledge.
  • It is complementary to nationally designated Protected Areas.
  • It provides an effective conservation measure for a large number of widely scattered sites.
  • It offers opportunities to link conservation and livelihoods development (ecosystem services, poverty reduction).
  • It is culturally appropriate, and socially and economically adaptable.

BirdLife International in the Middle East is reviving the Hima, a traditional system under which communities manage natural areas such as woodlands, grasslands and wetlands, and protect them from over-exploitation. Dating back at least to the sixth century, the Hima system has declined with modern changes in land use and transport, and changes in use and dependence on natural resources. A feature of the system is its flexibility, with regulations, management and responsibilities determined at a local level according to local needs and priorities. Therefore the Hima system allows a mixture of strict protection and sustainable use, and in many places this has supported the preservation of biodiversity that has been lost from the wider landscape

What is significant about Hima is the opportunity it provides to deliver conservation in a way which respects and fulfills people’s rights. At the level of procedural rights it adopts an approach based on participation, local governance, local rights to land and resources and local voices in decision-making. Democratic approaches which ensure the inclusion and sharing of benefits with women and minorities are encouraged – indeed, the origins of Hima are in its social welfare function. In terms of substantive rights Hima is helping to deliver jobs, food and water, ecosystem goods and services and cultural values – the basis of an individual’s right to life and livelihood.

The quick acceptance of the approach, relevance and rationale has been instrumental to enable the partnership to lobby establishing the Hima Fund in 2008 through a generous donation from the Qatari government, with a focus to Conserve IBAs and their threatened bird species. The fund was launched in 2011 with four approved grants to Partners in Jordan, Lebanon, Qatar and Oman to re-enforce and/or revitalise Himas in four sites. Further details on Hima Fund

In Lebanon, the Himas are currently emerging as a support system for network protected areas. Since the inception of Hima revival in Lebanon, five Himas has been established at IBAs, these are; Hima Ebl Esaqi, Hima Kfra Zabad and Anjar, Hima Tyre beach, and Hima Akkar-hermel. Plans now are geared to support Hima establishment in Anti-Lebanon KBA.

Other Himas established by Partners in other countries include: Bald Ibis Hima, Palmyra, Syria;  Hima Al-Fugaig, Dana Reserve, Jordan; Hima Al Odaid, Qatar, Massiera Isalnd Hima, Oman; and Iraqi Marshes Himas.

For more information visit http://www.himafund.org/en/