Friday, November 20, 1998

LebEnv #61


by Fareed Abou-Haidar

Recent news reports have revealed that Israelis have been digging up fertile soil from the occupied belt in South Lebanon, south of Marjayoun, and shipping it off to their side. One report said that the area involved had a depth of two to three meters in a 100 by 300 meter area. The Israelis claimed that they had not known about the theft while it was occurring. This is incredibly hard to believe, given the huge volume of the soil, which must have involved hundreds of trucks, and the extreme security in the area: how can one fighter not sneak across the border at night, yet trucks can freely cross back and forth?

What the Israelis did is despicable and is yet another environmental disaster. But, the fact is, we Lebanese ourselves have been squandering our priceless treasure of soil for millennia, with the situation getting dramatically worse the last three decades or so. (B-13) Remember the legend of the red "blood" of Adonis rushing into the sea from the Adonis (Ibrahim) River?

Just drive into the mountains surrounding Beirut. Take the road from Monte Verde towards Ras el-Matn and look across the valley to Broummana. You will see rivers of soil cascading hundreds of meters down the mountain in steep drainages. (Photo B-15) It comes from construction sites above; the soil is loaded by bulldozers into trucks which take them to the nearest convenient drainage and dump it there. The discarded soil smothers whatever trees and plants are in the drainage. Water rushing down the drainage erodes much of it down into the main stream and on to the sea.

We have destroyed the soil by scraping it off to build rock quarries. (B-14) Over hundreds of thousands of square meters in the fertile Bequa'a, we have traded thousands of years' worth of food production for a one-time profit by covering the land with buildings. The same applies for the coastal plains. We have lost the soil by cutting down the forests that held it together, letting the rain wash down the denuded mountainsides. We dump toxic chemicals in it, not to mention mishandled engine oil and gasoline leaking from tanks.

Perhaps good will come out of this tragedy. Maybe, in light of the publicity surrounding Israel's stealing of Lebanon, we will appreciate the land (or what we have left of it) and learn to treat with greater respect.

Fareed Abou-Haidar

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



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