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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.

    NOW Lebanon
    21.05.2010

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