Friday, May 15, 1998

LebEnv # 54


by Fareed Abou-Haidar

(Some of the information for this article was culled from The Daily Star Online at

Environment minister Akram Chehayeb has revealed a plan to close down Lebanon's 700 quarries and replace them with 18 areas where quarrying would be done in an organized manner with an eye to future reclamation. He said that he had met with interior minister Michel Murr and the team handling the file from the environment ministry and had agreed on most of the details relating to quarries across Lebanon, especially those in the Bekaa, south and north Lebanon, and "what is left of Mount Lebanon," a not-so-oblique but clever criticism of the devastation that has occurred in that region of the country. None of the 18 quarries would be in Mount Lebanon and all would be in remote areas away from inhabited or ecologically significant areas.

If this plan goes through, a miracle will have taken place in Lebanon! Who would have thought a few years ago that any quarries would ever be closed? It seemed that the country was doomed to be turned inside out, its mountains gouged out and mutated into buildings.

In fact, Lebanon now will have a better handle on quarrying than has the U.S., often the standard that other countries look up to for anything! In the U.S., government (public) land is open to mining under an obsolete Mining Law passed in 1872. If someone wants to mine metals, the government is forced by that law to allow him to do so, with no royalty paid. The government is even forced to sell land for a few dollars per acre (4000 sq. m.) even if it thinks the land is more valuable as wildlife habitat or a recreation area; for a few hundred dollars, huge mining companies make profits of millions. It gets worse on private land (including land bought from the government as just mentioned). Anything goes, and there are no requirements to reclaim the land in the case of mineral (not coal) mining, leaving ugly open pits all over the landscape. The government is also often obliged to have material sales, where someone can strip hillsides of boulders for landscaping or gouge it out for rocks and gravel. Corruption in Congress in Washington, D.C. has so far prevented reform of these outdated laws and regulations.

Congratulations Lebanon for putting your foot down and simply putting an end to a scourge that has eaten up the country like termites eating wood! The challenge now is to have a Marshall Plan to rehabilitate the old quarries as much as possible.

In the meantime, Speaker of the House Nabih Berri was disgusted with the sight of rock quarrying and other abuses of the Harissa mountain above Jounieh, once a jewel of Lebanon, as seen from Automobile Touring Club du Liban (ATCL) in Kaslik, where he had lunch. The head of the urban planning department, Saad Khaled, ordered all quarrying activities on the mountain be stopped. He ordered work to be stopped, and for a new study of the entire region be held to prevent further damage.

My comment: where were all the leaders of that area? Why did it take an outsider to that area to see how ugly things have become around Jounieh, and make a comment on the shameful destruction of Harissa mountain before something was finally done?

Yours truly will be going to Lebanon in less than two weeks and will be there through the month of June. LebEnv will be on hiatus during that time and, probably, for several weeks afterwards as I recover from the trip and catch up with things. I expect to have a whole slew of things to write about eventually, hopefully most of it good news.

Fareed Abou-Haidar

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



Created 980419/bl