Since the end of the Lebanese civil war, the historical and famous salterns (salt marshes) of Anfeh and its marine coast have faced many threats of destruction. As the sea pollution has become severe in Lebanon, owners of salt marshes found a decrease in the quality of the extracted salt. To exacerbate matters further, in 1992, the Government of Lebanon reduced the tax on imported salt from Egypt, making it significantly cheaper than locally produced salt. These circumstances have placed pressures on some owners who find the only solution is to abandon the salt production industry.
The threatened marshes are mainly located in two parts of Anfeh’s coast: the south side called ‘Ras al Mamalih’ and the north side, established on lands owned by the monastery of Saydit Al Natour, called ‘Malahat Ras al Natour’ (the salterns of Ras al Natour). The marshes at the south and north sides have been respectively designated since 1972 as an industrial zone and a touristic area; hence, many industries, cement factories and tourist resorts have been established there. On the other hand, many people argued that the present salt marshes are a violation of the marine public property, even though owners have a license that authorize them to practice salt production on that property.
Today, a huge tourist development is being proposed on the monastery land in ‘Ras Al Natour’ (plot number 912). The development project will have a surface area of 30,990 m2 on the coast and reclaim 38,875 m2 of land from the sea. This project was rejected by the Higher Council for Urban Planning due to land’s protection status designated by the National Physical Master Plan of the Lebanese Territory. In fact, Anfeh is considered an exceptional site that should be enlisted as a historical as well as natural heritage site. In addition, it is among the Proposed Marine Protected Area sites of Lebanon’s Marine Protected Area Strategy.
The session of Cabinet of Ministers held on the 21st of May 2018 ended without announcing any decision concerning the removal of the salterns in northern Lebanon in order to implement the development project. However, a tweet from the leader of Progressive Socialist Party chief Walid Joumblatt confirmed that the Cabinet has indeed accepted the removal of these historical features and project implementation. Another source from Baabda Palace confirmed that the Cabinet has indeed approved the project secretly. However, the monastery that owns the land claims that the proposed development is merely an ecofriendly residential housing project, stressing that it will ensure the creation of thousands of jobs for the North, keeping Anfeh’s residents in their village. In addition, it believes that the project will embrace the heritage of Anfeh and highlight the importance of the salt marshes for Anfeh’s residents.
According to the provisions of Law 444/2002 (Environmental Protection Law) and Decree 8633/2012 on environmental impact assessment study, such a development is required to undergo an EIA due to its presence on an environmentally sensitive area, before it is approved. The EIA process would require the owner of the development to publicly announce his plan and consult with stakeholders and the local community before proceeding with its implementation.
Although it is still unclear what exactly happened during that Cabinet meeting and if that development will indeed go through, the lack of transparency does not invoke faith in the decision-making process.