Lebanon faces a myriad of environmental challenges; most notably is the mismanagement of its natural resources. Water suffers from river pollution, groundwater contamination and sea pollution. The drought over the past few years has intensified and water shortage has lead to calls for declaring a state of water emergency. Forests in Lebanon are not spared either; in the last 40 years forest cover throughout the country has been reduced by 35%. Forest fires and illegal logging of trees are the main culprits. Many illegal stone quarries are operating throughout Lebanon extracting stone, but even the legal ones have caused damage to surrounding ecosystems.
Suffering extensively from this situation is Akkar District in Lebanon’s north, where protection of forests and water sources is not considered a priority given the dire socioeconomic and security conditions. Akkar’s ground and surface water is being contaminated by sewage, affecting the 216 towns of the district as well as the agriculture economy. The high salinity of agricultural land is one indicator of the gravity of the situation. Even though forest trees in Lebanon are protected by law, in Akkar, they are cut down with authorities powerless to protect them. Forests also experience fires almost every year, but protective measures are yet to be taken. The coastal area in the region has suffered as well, with many unlicensed quarries extracting sand for over 20 years. It also appears that quarry owners have agreed, without reverting to the proper authorities, to divide the coast amongst them, such that each quarry operates on a piece of land designated to it.
These issues persist mainly because there are not enough resources on the ground dedicated to enforcing environmental laws. Even when apprehended, perpetrators reportedly use connections to avoid charges. It is even claimed that some use connections to obtain valid licenses; a situation that has been reported in the town of Bazbina of Arsal. Authorities, however, claim that the problem arises from license holders not abiding by the license conditions, such as restricting activities to pruning, operating in a designated area and ending activities at a specified date. In one case for example, the Forestry Department at the Agricultural Directorate of Akkar ordered an operator to halt their work for not fulfilling the license conditions. It appears though that the operator did not comply and maintains the current activities of producing coal from surrounding trees.
Violations to the environment will continue as long as there is no political will to stop them. Attaining this political will in a system like Lebanon is a challenging task, especially in the current security conditions. However, if natural resources in the country are all treated as a private good to plunder at will and there is no accountability for breaking the law, the quality of life of all Lebanese will continue to decline.