Friday, August 20, 1997
QUARRIES-PART 1: THE PROBLEM
by Fareed Abou-Haidar
The Quarries in Lebanon: where to?
Farid C. Zantout, independent writer.
At the top of priorities, remains the increasing pressure to close down the stone and sand quarries* negatively affecting the environment in Lebanon. The opposition is mounting throughout the country for any specific region to host this unregulated industry.
A decision is needed today on whether our nation is to regain its previous touristic role in the region. Currently, the chaotic quarrying process is in direct conflict with this role. A sound environmental policy does not, as quarry advocates seem to suggest, affect the crucial rebuilding process for the current government, who has after the war, the great task of delivering the country from the pre-war state to the 21st century.
At the center of this conflict is Environment Minister Akram Shouhayyeb, who is hampered by a ministry that has to share its decision with two other ministries (Interior and Public Works), while the role of each is becoming vague at best.
It is known that the Ministry of Environment is in dire need of funding and proprietary decision making. Once more, it is up to the Government to assume the role of administrative guide and deliver a well funded and independent ministry, capable of some overdue action on the agenda at hand.
*Around 700 quarries exist in Lebanon. It's one of the highest ratios of quarries per Km2 of land, worldwide.
The article seems to indicate that many quarries that need to be closed to protect the environment remain open at the time. Since then, news from Lebanon has indicated that many quarries had been closed, leaving a few approved ones in areas where supposedly less harm is caused.
A forest fire may destroy trees, but they can grow back. Water pollution can be cleaned. Garbage can be removed. An offensive building can (theoretically) be demolished and the land under it reclaimed. A road can be closed.
Rock and gravel quarries are another matter. They cause the final, irreversible destruction of the landscape by permanently obliterating mountainsides or even entire mountains that have stood for millions of years. Thus, rock quarries need to be approached with special care.
Lebanon's unique landscape is what makes Lebanon... Lebanon. And yet, according to the article above, the country is riddled with some 700 quarries. Keep in mind that a large area of the country is agricultural land that cannot be quarried (the Bequa'a Valley, coastal plains...), and you get an idea of the density of quarries that the remainder of the country has to put up with. Very roughly speaking, we are looking at one quarry per ten square kilometers in the mountainous areas.
Although I lived in Lebanon until 1984 and was always angry over the destruction being caused by quarries, I was still shocked by what I saw in 1995 and 1997 when I traveled to areas I had not been to for a long time, if ever. I hiked in the upper mountains of the Keserwan and Jubail regions, which, of course, involved driving up from the coast. There seemed to be a quarry around every corner, in every valley and on every mountainside. I saw even more of them while hiking.
These quarries have been fueling Lebanon's wartime and post-war construction frenzies. The solution, which has been debated recently by the Lebanese government, is to close the majority of quarries and leave a few in remote areas that do not have special scenic, ecological, or hydrological values.
Also, restraint is needed in the consumption of raw materials. Material from demolished buildings needs to be recycled into gravel and other construction material, not dumped. Perhaps some of our material needs to be imported from other countries (that are larger and less densely populated), as Minister Walid Junblatt, recently suggested, despite the expense.
Here is a partial list of the damage done by quarries:
In the next LebEnv, I will have a partial list and descriptions of quarries in Lebanon.