Friday, January 29, 1999

LebEnv #66


by Fareed Abou-Haidar

When President Lahoud gave his inaugural speech, protecting the environment was one of his points. Optimism was tempered soon after, when minister of the interior Michel Murr renewed the licenses of 18 rock quarries in the Dahr el- Baidar and Ain Dara areas, in the heart of Mount Lebanon. This was contrary to a plan proposed by the Environment Ministry to limit quarries to the fringes of the country.

Now minister Murr has come out to announce that he wants to get rid of the Environment Ministry. The Daily Star quoted him: "Those two ministries were established a few years ago to give portfolios to would-be ministers. The formation of these ministries has proved a failure and the government will now try to correct this mistake," he said. (The other Ministry is Municipal and Rural Affairs.) He proposed to merge its functions with local municipal councils, and a later report mentioned merging it with the Ministry of Agriculture.

Akram Chehayeb's Environment Ministry in the previous government was anything but ineffective. Despite the powerful interests and the rampant corruption in the government, Mr. Chehayeb was able to shut down a third of Lebanon's 700-plus quarries, establish nature preserves covering over 5 percent of the country's surface (with more proposed), and send toxic wastes back to their countries of origin, among many accomplishments. A hunting ban has been in effect for the last five years, and the proliferation of song birds is stunning. The Environment Ministry needs to maintain a high profile, something that will not be the case if it is hidden inside another ministry. In the U.S., special interests have prevented the Environmental Protection Agency from becoming a high-profile Department (the U.S. equivalent of Ministry). We don't need to be heading in the opposite direction in Lebanon.

Still, the mountains of Lebanon are stripped of 30 million tons of rocks per year, at 6 dollars a ton, for reconstruction alone. This figure excludes the huge amount of rocks wasted for land reclamation efforts, such as the one that ruined nearly the entire coast of the Meten, from Beirut to Dbayyeh.

Mr. Chehayeb proposed to limit quarries to the fringes of the country, away from people and environmentally sensitive areas. The only reason the master plan did not become law was because Parliament kept on postponing it until the new government was formed. Now, Mr. Chehayeb has concluded that the reason the master plan was postponed was because it put the issue of closing quarries with the Environment Ministry, not with Mr. Murr's Interior Ministry. (He was in that post in the previous government too.) The outspoken Chehayeb even named 44 politicians who benefited from the quarrying industry. In short, the quarrying industry should be a prime target for the government's much- publicized crackdown on corruption.

According to The Daily Star, the current environment minister, Arthur Nazarian, said that he had only read Mr. Murr's comments in the press Monday morning. "I must ask him about it to see what he meant," he said. This is as bad as President Clinton, on the definition of sex, saying "It depends on what the meaning of the word is, is." Murr's intentions could not have been more blatant. Mr. Nazarian needs a spine transplant, or else, Akram Chehayeb, who hails from one of the best preserved areas of Lebanon, needs to be brought back.

Mr. Michel Murr is threatening to wipe out the environmental accomplishments of the last eight years. He would rather return to the bad old days when people helplessly watched the Lebanese landscape being shredded by all kinds of money-making schemes. It is worth noting that Mr. Murr gave us the horrible Cap Sur Ville, a skyscraper development looming over the city and totally out of scale with the foothills just east of Beirut.

Please send e-mail to Minister Murr and President Lahoud They need to know that the Environment Ministry needs to stay and should be strengthened. Fareed Abou-Haidar

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


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