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Are we surprised?

It had to happen sooner or later. UNESCO has apparently warned Lebanon that the Kadisha Valley, whose monasteries, according to the agency’s website, are “the most significant surviving examples of the fundamental demonstration of Christian faith,” is in danger of being dropped from its World Heritage List. Unregulated picnicking, restaurants and building projects, as well as all-terrain vehicle racing and an uncontrolled inflow of raw sewage are all to blame for the warning.
 
Are we surprised? Anywhere else in the world, the Kadisha Valley would be considered sacred, a protected hiking destination and conservation area that would be held up as a national treasure and an ambassador for Lebanon’s heritage.
 
It is time for all Lebanese to wake up to the fact that Lebanon is not the beautiful country described in tourist guides. It was a beautiful country, arguably among the most beautiful in the world. But it has fallen victim to our wanton disregard for the environment, a disregard that has been fuelled by a heady combination of greed, ignorance and an absence of national accountability.
 
An absence of modern building codes, urban planning and chronic corruption are the main reasons for Lebanon’s ruined landscape. From the center of Beirut to the most remote villages, what should be pockets of historic interest in a region that sits on the edges of the cradles of civilization, one can witness how sprawling construction has destroyed Lebanon’s charm and heritage.
 
How can we honestly call Lebanon’s mountains “beautiful” when they are dotted with high-rise apartments, half-built concrete structures and illegal quarries? The traditional aesthetic has been abandoned. Areas that should be a showcase for rural living have been spoiled by “mud hut” architecture. The only example that has been set is one of greed wrapped in the illusion of modernity.
 
Laws should be changed. Building designs should be approved according to stringent national guidelines that respect the environment and its population. Then again, we are probably too late; much of the damage has already been done.
 
What we can fix is the garbage issue. With the exception of the Chouf, where Walid Jumblatt has imposed his own green policy, Lebanon is awash with litter. In the same way that Lebanon’s environment has been ruined by rampant building, it is being equally obliterated by careless dumping. Hunters do not pick up empty cartridges, families leave behind the detritus of their picnics, household garbage is left by the side of the road. The list is depressingly endless. In 20 years, since the end of the war, there has been neither a genuine national awareness campaign to clean up the country nor any initiative to recycle our waste. It is a shocking indictment on a country that claims to be modern and forward thinking.
 
Greed has killed beauty. On the roads heading out of Beirut, thousands of billboards blot out a once-beautiful landscape. The stretch of highway from Karatina to the Nahr al-Kalb tunnel should be a beautiful tree-lined boulevard. Instead, it has become a municipal cash cow, a place to advertise tinned ham, sports apparel and lingerie. Shame on us all.
 
If the Kadisha Valley is no longer designated a World Heritage Site, one wonders if it will be the shock Lebanon needs to put the breaks on its ruinous journey to environmental self-destruction. The country just might realize it has been too corrupt and too self absorbed for too long.
 
Culture Minister Salim Wardy has apparently written to the president and Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir for guidance on the matter, but Wardy, who is by all accounts a clean, diligent and patriotic man, cannot do it alone. This is a national malaise, an illness that must be treated before it becomes terminal.
 
The fear is it may be too late.

  • baroudi

    Well, our Lebanon and us, its poeple, are not what the Rahbanis made us to be. It is about time we woke up from that rosy dream and realized how bad things are.

    May 24, 2010

  • نوبل كريستيان

    Cannot and will not protect our land he who failed to protect his.Cannot and will not respect our earthly constitution he who failed to respect his holy constitution. He upon whom the glory of Lebanon is bestowed.

    May 23, 2010

  • Robot

    Great comments tho': indignant, honest & it seems to me patriotic. Most of it is just down to dull western indifference it seems to me. But when beauty is so easily manufactured & superadded & glossed then the only solution is think about "beauty" itself: what we are missing and why. Thus.

    May 22, 2010

  • Hassan

    Thank you for this inspiring article. I am embarrassed to say that I didn’t even know it was on the list; or may be I never cared or paid any attention. But that’s not important. Now that we realized the significance of it, what matters is what we are going to do about it. We should stop wasting time writing comments, turn our computer off and go out do something about it. Then come back, turn our computer on, click on Now Lebanon, and write comments of what we accomplished

    May 21, 2010

  • vreb

    We are a surprising lot. Any country we go to we end up building it and being assets to the countries in question. Yet we consistently, as if we have some death wish (which we probably do) make all efforts to destroy our own country. Good work Lebanon!!!!

    May 20, 2010

  • George

    I live and work in London, and a colleague of mine recently visited Lebanon on a conference. When I asked him of his opinion he replied by saying " Beirut is ugly, the people are nice, but Beirut is ugly". Well, being patriotic i felt hurt, and thought in all honesty that Beirut is indeed ugly, but that you see our beaches, mountains and rural life! In reality our beaches are horrible: the public beaches are dirty and the private beaches are either raving loony malls by sea with terrible fast food restaurants or blingy outposts of wanna be gangsters! Sadly our coast l line doesn’t have naturally beautiful of Greece or turkey, and we certainly haven’t maximised on gems likes Sayda, Batroun, Byblos or Sour’s ancient harbours. As for our mountains, well what can I say that hasn’t been said already! They are laden with high rises, garbage dumps hanging off the side of the roads, quarries etc… WE don’t even know what kind of wildlife if any lives there other than cats! The reality is

    May 20, 2010

  • Wajdi

    What a shame. What a shame that while we are worried about what we wear, how huge our house is, and how expensive our ride is, our country’s environmental challenges are completely abandoned. Is that part of being a Lebanese? I am ashamed.

    May 20, 2010