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Construction and Encroachments “As Far as the Eye Can See”: Lebanon is No Longer Green
Posted on Mar 24, 2021 |
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The songs of Fairuz about the nature of Lebanon are no longer believable. “Lubnan ya akhdar ya helou” (Lebanon You Beautiful Green) and “Helianeh l dinyeh helianeh b lubnan el akhdar” (The World is Embellished with Green Lebanon) became a “nostalgia” expressing the Lebanese longing for the Switzerland of the Middle East. The mountains and the plains have become deserts and concrete forests due to lawlessness and conflicting laws, encroachments, fires, urban chaos and ill-considered public projects. Reasons that transformed Mount Lebanon into eroded plateaus recording the highest forest cover loss in Lebanon (50%) since 2000 (while still comprising 28% of Lebanon's total area).
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Construction and Encroachments “As Far as the Eye Can See”: Lebanon is No Longer Green
©Adra Kandil

The songs of Fairuz about the nature of Lebanon are no longer believable. “Lubnan ya akhdar ya helou” (Lebanon You Beautiful Green) and “Helianeh l dinyeh helianeh b lubnan el akhdar” (The World is Embellished with Green Lebanon) became a “nostalgia” expressing the Lebanese longing for the Switzerland of the Middle East. The mountains and the plains have become deserts and concrete forests due to lawlessness and conflicting laws, encroachments, fires, urban chaos and ill-considered public projects. Reasons that transformed Mount Lebanon into eroded plateaus recording the highest forest cover loss in Lebanon (50%) since 2000 (while still comprising 28% of Lebanon's total area).

 

According to the figures of the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture, which date back to the last survey of Mount Lebanon in 2005, it detains a forest area of 49,561.24 hectares, the majority of which is in Aley district (4,611.26), and the minority is in Keserwan district (8,809.44). On the other hand, Globalforest.org figures show that in 2010, Mount Lebanon was covered with 25.7 kilo hectares of forest extending to 13% of its territory. Between 2001 and 2019, it lost 2.09 kilo hectares of its forests, which is equivalent to 7%. It was the highest percentage recorded across Lebanon. The first losses were recorded in Jbeil district (501 hectares), and the last were in Aley district (236 hectares). Those figures are only the result of decades of the official and societal responsibility level towards the forest cover.

 

In 1949, the Forestry Law was enacted forming the regulatory framework for forests protection. Although its provisions detailed cutting and afforestation even for private property, the violations that subsequently occurred through permits or de facto force, rendered it ineffective. Not only did the violations undermine it, but also a series of decrees issued later, such as the Law of 1964 on village ownership of communal or abandoned land and a section of the forests, which in some places led the State to abandon its role in preserving public green spaces. In 1983, Legislative Decree No. 43 was issued exempting licensed or to be licensed construction projects, and public works projects conducted by public administrations and institutions from the prohibition of trees cutting! Eight years later, the decree was converted into a law without the introduction of mandatory requirement for afforestation in exchange of the harvested forest space.

 

The State's failure to impose its protective power has been accompanied by other factors. According to George Mitri, Director of the Land and Natural Resources Program at the Institute of the Environment of the University of Balamand, socio-economic changes have led to a loss of interest in forests and their marginalization, such as the abandonment of firewood collection, pruning and organized grazing. This has made forests increasingly vulnerable to fires due to the accumulation of vegetable fuels. Apart from the fires, the forests of Mount Lebanon have been reduced by urban expansion and the spread of quarries and crushers. Urbanization (whether construction or infrastructure) has put enormous pressure on some areas of Mount Lebanon, particularly after the exodus from the upper to the central areas or the coast, specifically the areas of Keserwan and the southern and northern Metn, including the southern and northern suburbs of Beirut. Among the causes of forest erosion, were the construction permits which doubled between 2007 and 2008 alone, from 4.3 million to 8.4 million square meters. Dr. Mitri blames the current system for the land-use anarchy: "It is not immune to political interference and does not adopt strategic and sustainable land-use planning. Even the Comprehensive Plan for Lebanese Territory Arrangement has not been taken into account.” Dr. Mitri assigns the Ministry of Agriculture the biggest tasks in reviving a green Lebanon. So what is the Ministry actually doing?

 

The Ministry's Director of Rural Development and Natural Resources, Chadi Mohanna, points out that there are obstacles to the protection of forests, including the small number of forest guards and their role limited to controlling the violation and referring it to the judiciary that sentences the offender for less than the size of his offence, which lost its deterrent power. The conflict of laws has made the ministry itself lose its authority over the forest cover. "When referring a plan for a public project, the Department of Forests issues permits based on prior approvals issued by other official departments, such as a logging permit, for the purpose of public road construction and building a dam... Here, it is legally bound to grant permits upon application submittal with complete legal documentation. As for private property, allowing gumwood logging is limited to two reasons: licensed construction and sometimes public safety preservation. In the case of leafy trees, a third reason is added: land rehabilitation for agricultural investment". This is where the responsibility of the Urban Planning Council, the Ministry of Public Works, and the Ministry of Interior and Municipalities is highlighted in the granting of building and rehabilitation permits. In exchange for allowing the cutting, the ministry is engaged in afforestation. According to Mohanna, in 2012, the "40 million trees" program was launched to increase the forest cover from 13 to 20 percent of Lebanon’s land area.

 

On a parallel line, several associations, most notably “Jouzour Loubnan”, are working to increase forest areas and promote sustainable afforestation methods in partnership with local communities. By 2019, more than 350,000 trees were planted, protected and cared for, based on scientific research, in collaboration with the Faculty of Science at St. Joseph University. Mount Lebanon had a share of afforestation with Cedar, Pine, Carob, Terebinth, Juniper and Evergreen Cypress trees... Several official and civil initiatives have been recorded in the context of reforestation. According to Globalforestwatch.org, Mount Lebanon recorded the highest afforestation rate in Lebanon between 2001 and 2012, reaching 778 kilo hectare. The Chouf district ranked first with 241 hectares planted. Keserwan district ranked penultimate with 98 hectares and Baabda district ranked last with 77 planted hectares. Knowing that these two districts include coastal cities and towns such as Jounieh, Zouk Mikael, Zouk Mosbeh, and Dahiyeh with a high population density, the majority of which are displaced from the high mountain villages.

 

The civil society worked on the line of legislation as well. In 2019, the “Lebanese Advocacy Network for Environment” submitted a bill to the Parliament aimed at “protecting and developing Lebanon's high mountains”. Paul Abi Rached, founder of “T.E.R.R.E. Liban Association”, said the law is making its way through the parliamentary committees for approval.

 

 

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Mar 2021
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