The Lebanese Cabinet recently approved the construction of a beach resort on the rocky coast of Kfarabida, located in North Lebanon. This is not a new phenomenon; Lebanon’s 225 km coastline is slowly being eaten up by real estate developers.
During the civil war, the instability and chaos paved the way for the construction of more than 1,200 illegal structures along the coast. Instead of disbanding these structures after the civil war, more coastal areas were subject to this form of “privatization”.
Article 1 of the French mandate Law 144/S of 1925 designates the coast, amongst many other types of land, as public property in Lebanon. The law states that if anyone has a property that is deemed public property (by Law 144) then it may only be used for public services after given compensation to the land owner.
Decree No. 4810 of 1966, the Organizations of Maritime Public Property Decree, sets various regulations on seaside property, explicitly stating that coastal property will remain at the disposal of the public and no one will have the authority to exploit the coastal area for personal or private interest.
The decree did permit the exploitation of the beach but set a few conditions. Some of the important conditions relevant to public access are:
- Any seaside project must have tourism or industrial justifications and must bear a public aspect.
- The beach must remain accessible to the public.
- No permanent facility can be constructed.
Decree No. 7464 of 1995 amended Decree No. 4810 by allowing first class tourist projects that have a property area larger than 20,000 square meters to occupy more than the permissible water surface area.
Despite having a clear set of rules and regulations for coastal property, there is little evidence to suggest that these rules are being followed. A report concluded by the Ministry of Public Works and Transport in 2012 found that there are 4,901,726 meters squared of coastal property across Lebanon. More than half of this, 2,535,788 meters squared, is “illegal and unlicensed.” Most of these violations are located in Mount Lebanon, followed by North Lebanon and then South Lebanon.
The conditions of Decree No. 4810 have not been met in most of the popular beach areas in Lebanon. Accessing the beach without paying the entrance fee is impossible in most private beach resorts along the popular coastal areas of Jiye, Damour, and Jbeil. Construction on the coast is also widespread in many coastal areas, particularly on the coast of Beirut; hotels, restaurants, and resorts are located throughout.
The problem with the Kfarabida development is that despite the fact that legal conditions regarding public beach access have not respected for years, authorities maintain that they will be respected in future projects. The Beirut municipality, who is responsible for issuing the building permit for the construction of Dalieh claims that the project will maintain the public access of sea the site had. Considering the amount of violations and how the beaches of many private resorts are inaccessible, it is difficult to believe this statement.
A model for coastal development in line with the law is southern town of Tyre. The cafes located on the beach are portable and are disassembled every year after the summer season ends. Anyone can access the beach and does not have to pay any fees to do so.
Violations on public properties happen on a regular basis, especially coastal properties. The fact is that there does not seem to be any political will to prevent these violations. It seems that as long developers can make profit off these resorts, they will continue to transform pristine public beaches to private beaches with the government’s consent.