This article first appeared on the Usenet newsgroup soc.culture.lebanon on 12 Jul 1996

LebEnv #3


by Fareed Abou-Haidar

The war is over and the threat to Lebanon as a country has diminished. But the threat to Lebanon as a physical entity is greater than ever. One of the most visible threats on the ground is the uncontrolled construction sprouting everywhere.

While some construction takes place on individual pre-exisiting plots inside towns, the most destructive kind is land division projects (Masharee farz el-aradi). A large piece of land outside the towns and villages is carved up with roads and gets subdivided into little pieces of 400-1000 square meters each that are sold off. Such a large area might contain terraced fruit orchards, flowery meadows, pine forests, steep hillsides, or beautiful weathered gray rocks of fantastic shapes. Soon, the trees are cut, the hills are covered with soil dumped from the back of a truck, and the rocks are blasted to make way for a mish-mash of houses and ugly 5-story apartment buildings, each of a different style, on the once pastoral countryside. Because these developments are scattered everywhere, often far from the downtown areas of cities and towns, and usually consist of a system of dead-end roads, they encourage people to drive cars instead of walking, adding to the intolerable traffic jams.

Such uncontrolled development is eating up many square kilometers in a tiny country where each corner of the countryside is unique and loaded with history and memories. Villages and towns are losing their character as new buildings crowd out the old, red-roofed houses (or even replace them) and as the villages are fused together into large areas of faceless urban sprawl. In the mountains around Beirut, the situation is so bad that there are not many places left where one can go for a hike or a picnic. Once-scenic vistas are scarred with roads and buildings, leading to a sense of claustrophobia.

Sometimes, I wonder how long tourists will keep coming to Lebanon. It is not enough to offer them Jeita, Ba'alback, The Cedars and a few other tourist sites if the rest of the country is going to look like junk. Of course, we should not be thinking about what the tourists want to see, but about the future of the very land that gave rise to the Lebanese people and their character, the same land that is being gouged out by bulldozers and discarded into valleys like so much garbage, to be washed into the sea.

Lebanon needs to rise above the rights of the individual big landowner and think about its ultimate future by embarking on ambitious land-use plans. Because so much of the country is privately owned, to say that everyone has the right to subdivide and build on his land is to condemn the country to being paved over. Areas with forests, natural features like sculpted rocks, rivers and deep valleys need to be set aside the way much land in the US was set aside as public lands (National Parks, National Forests...). Perhaps they can be exchanged in return for development rights in less sensitive areas. Agriculture needs to be protected to save fertile land from being sold to builders. It has been done in the US in places such as Portland, Oregon, and in London and Paris. Why not in Lebanon?

Wake up everyone! The real enemy of Lebanon is not a gray tank, but a yellow bulldozer!


Just west of Bshamoun southeast of Beirut is a small hill rising above the village. It is a nearly-perfect cone, too steep to build on without massive destruction of land. Until the mid-70's, it was covered with a pine forest on the west side and assorted olive orchards on other sides. The forest was partially cut and burned several times until only a few trees were left on the west face. But the real travesty was when a bulldozer built a road zig-zagging up that side of the hill, spilling white soil down over the remains of the forest. A new land subdivision was born. The worsening of the war situation in the 1980's prevented new construction, but a few buildings of several stories each have been built since then. Theoretically, the entire hill could become a mass of concrete buildings, a crying shame for a place that should have remained a unique landmark that defines the village where Lebanon's independence was born.



Created 960901