According to the World Bank’s Environmental Assessment Sourcebook update on cultural heritage, “Many types of development projects can have a direct adverse impact on cultural heritage. The task manager, in consultation with national or local cultural heritage authorizes as necessary, should review potential direct or indirect impacts to cultural heritage as a standard and central part of the environmental screening process.” The EIA process in Lebanon also addresses the impact of development on cultural heritage in Section 7-3 of its EIA Decree 8633 for 2012.
Lebanon is home to some of the oldest cities in the world; however over the past 2 decades, there has been a lot of controversy over how the government is conserving discovered artifacts. As a result, a series of accusations were made by the public that developers have been pressuring government officials over decisions relating to land use and protection of historical sites, particularly in downtown Beirut. Many claim that the opinions of the archaeologists had been overlooked for the benefit of speeding up and facilitating the construction process. This has caused tension between some archeologists and government officials, leading in one case to a defamation lawsuit between a minister and an archaeologist.
The EIA is an important decision making tool that policy makers should use to minimize all adverse environmental and social impacts, including destruction of historical sites and artifacts. The controversies over archaeological sites that have come up over years are mainly due to lack of transparency and inconsistent processes. Using the EIA process to protect cultural heritage in Lebanon will surely help allay public concerns through proper stakeholder consultation and information disclosure that are required by law anyway.