When many of us think of Lebanon, this beautiful country of ours, we think of green landscapes with lush forests, valleys and peaks, and the iconic coastal views. Yet, unfortunately, much of the mountainous landscapes of yesterday are not at all the same today because of large quarry operations.
Lebanon has been in the quarry business for decades, leveling out small portions of land at a time to harvest sand and other minerals in order to make concrete and other building materials for new construction. However, today, Lebanon’s landscapes are disappearing at an alarming rate, and nothing is being done to stop it.
Take the mountain town of Tarshish high up in Mount Lebanon overlooking the Bekaa Valley, for instance.
The looming mountain has been ravaged and torn up, wiped out because of quarrying, and with this year’s heavy rainfall, three landslides occurred in the area during spring due to the lack of vegetation to hold the land together and withstand the runoff.
Yet, those involved in Tarshish’s quarry business claim that the land will be excavated into terraces that will host vineyards to make aydar (monastery) wine. However, one of the monastery winemakers himself, Frederic Cacchia, did not foresee the area becoming lush vineyards.
In the Mayrouba town in Kessrwan, the mountains are facing an even worse fate. An entire mountain tops have been erased due to mineral and sand harvesting for the sake of money and construction, without a second thought to the environmental implications.
“More than 120,000 of our pine trees have been cut down. We had thirty water ‘ein‘ (wells)–but today we only have two left, and they are both polluted,” Mayrouba local and anti-quarry activist Elias Saadeh said via The Independent.
“…the people who did this are not educated,” he continued. “Because they only see the dollar. These people make $5,000 a day. They made people rich, but they remained uneducated. They have never learned how to love the land.”
So who is responsible for this senseless mining without a care for preserving Lebanon’s iconic rolling mountain tops and pine forests?
The answer to this question is very complicated, indeed. Many different parties are involved, from the Maronite church that owns a vast majority of the Lebanese land, to construction companies and the excavators themselves. But, they all have one thing in common: blaming the government.
All of this natural destruction could be stopped if the right person, or people, really wanted it to be.
And Elias Saadeh, along with other activists for the cause, have made waves in trying to do so. They even managed to get a meeting with Claudine Aoun, the daughter of current President Michel Aoun. The activists took their plight to the courts and were able to get a “cease work” order to stop excavations on March 1st.
But, Mayrouba is just one of several sites where quarrying takes place. To make a real change, the issue relies on the powers that be in Parliament, namely Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who has the power to enforce laws against these destructive operations and save Lebanon’s landscape.
However, since Hariri is Sunni, he might be perceived as being discriminatory against Christians for halting work on Maronite-owned land, just as his father before him was when he tried to enforce quarry licenses.
The clock is ticking as more land gets taken away from these mountains every day, and the excavation should be stopped–before it’s too late.
So, how about us The People? What can we do, together as one, to stop the mass slaughtering of our green lands?