Friday, April 3, 1998

LebEnv # 51


by Fareed Abou-Haidar

For years, I have relied on maps of Lebanon made before the war. The best one, at 1:100,000 scale, was made in 1967. Although I knew that it was outdated, I still used it because of the great detail, including shaded relief (topography).

I recently obtained a new map of Lebanon, published by the Ministry of Tourism. As far as I know, it is the first detailed map made after the war. Although it is at 1:200,000 scale, it is an excellent map that includes contour lines as well as shaded relief. It reveals a lot, but I was disappointed with some of what I saw on it.

[The MOT maps]

There are a lot of new roads showing on this map that did not exist in 1967. Not surprisingly, the coast now has a double line, one for the old coastal highway, one for the new freeway. However, there were a few surprises in areas of Lebanon I had never been to or had not been to for a long time.

In the north, there is a new road connecting Fneidiq and Meshemesh with 'Akkar el-'Atiqua, and on north to Qoubayyat. Apparently this road was needed to connect three high-mountain areas that previously could communicate with each other only via a long, roundabout route towards the coast. However, this road also goes south from Fneidiq and Meshemesh to... nowhere. It penetrates deep into what was perhaps the largest roadless area in Mount Lebanon (the mountain range, not the province). It goes around the spectacular Wadi Jhannam, then quits in the northern foothills of Qornet el-Sawda, at almost 2000 meters. I can't imagine why this road was built. It may be to serve some new real-estate project, although that would seem to be a hostile area for living. Perhaps it serves a new ski resort, although there does not seem to be a need for one, with The Cedars nearby. It may be part of an unfinished project to link Akkar, via Sir el-Dinniyyeh, with the Ehden area, where the map shows another new road to nowhere near Horsh Ehden.

If there is really a legitimate need for such a road, then measures should be taken to make sure the road is used only for transportation among the various towns. It should not become a magnet for real-estate developments, which would devastate some of the most beautiful and remote areas of Lebanon. The good news is that Wadi Jhannam and Horsh Ehden have been designated as protected areas.

In the northern Bequa'a, the map shows several roads; most of them are improvements on old dirt roads. That's fine. Unfortunately, one road several kilometers long was built through a forested area in the foothills of the east side of Mount Lebanon, from Nabha to the existing road north of 'Ainata. It is not far from from an existing road from Nabha to 'Ainata, and probably saves no more than a few minutes of travel time.

Farther south is an another disturbing road. My last trip to Faraya was in 1983. The road there always passed through Faitroun, Mairouba, Hrajel, and Faraya-Village. I was shocked to see that a new road had been built, bypassing those towns and ruining a rare unspoiled gorge in a Keserwan already devastated by a dense spaghetti of roads and runaway development. This road takes off from the bottom of the Nahr el-Mghara gorge between Faitroun and Mazra'at Kfar Debian, an area of steep cliffs and sculpted karst rock formations. It goes east through the gorge, where a road never existed before, then meets an old road that has been upgraded; it climbs up the side of a mountain, descends back into the gorge, then crosses it and hits Faraya near its center. The map's color legend shows it as now being the main road to Faraya.

I don't see what was wrong with the "old" road from Faitroun towards Faraya, itself a recent alternative to an even older road. It does not provide any meaningful shortcut between any two villages. All it may do is provide a new breeding ground for new developments. Heaven forbid that we should have another Satellity-style development similar to the one that ravaged the karst formations east of Faitroun.

Another apparent addition is a road from the Bhamdoun area to Ras el-Meten, going through the deep valley of Nahr el-Meten. This is (was?) a pristine gorge of pine trees and steep cliffs, a perfect area for hikers from the YMCA camp in Ras el-Meten where I used to go as a child in the early 1970s. The road provides a shortcut, saving drivers a few minutes but at the great cost of jeopardizing this once-remote area with development that follows roads like leeches.

The map also shows a road running along the higher elevations of the Barouk Mountains, far above any villages. It seems to be a road from nowhere to nowhere, and may be a product of wartime military activity. At least it is within the new 500-square-kilometer Shouf nature preserve and thus will not cause undesirable development.

A plan is needed to protect the remaining roadless areas of Lebanon from needless road construction. A populous country like Lebanon needs a few places where Nature rules and where people can go to unwind, far from the sights, smells and sounds of cars and development. The fact is, we cannot join every village in Lebanon with every other village. We have to accept some longer trips in return for preserving what's left of the countryside.

I intend to find more about these roads on my upcoming trip to Lebanon. In the meantime, any information is welcome.

Fareed Abou-Haidar

Fareed's Home Page (with articles and photos on the environment in Lebanon) at

[Al Mashriq Editor's note: A rather more up to date map of Lebanon than the standard MOT map which is based on the 1970 Army Map, is Geoprojects new 1:200 000 map of the country. For sources search for "Geoprojects" at Cyber411.]

(See other photographs from some of the areas mentioned above.)


Created 980321/bl