Hiking groups and environmental issues in Lebanon

by Erika Bozzato

 

As I quite like spending time outdoors exploring the nature, I decided to join a local hiking group called “Footprints Nature Club”[1], whose aim is to promote people’s relationship with nature and Lebanon’s environmental heritage. In fact they do not organize only hiking trips, but also mountain climbing, rappelling, rafting and – in winter – snowshoeing. They are really well organized. Each trip includes a local guide and support staff from the organization, roughly one person for six-seven participants. As trails are not always clearly marked, it is a great way to get people wandering around the country, including hard-to-reach or little known places. The trip was organized in Qadisha Valley, one of the loveliest parts of Lebanon I have visited – see the photo gallery.

Besides having great time and getting to know friendly people, I started to look around wondering about Lebanon environmental issues and did some reading once I got home.

Lebanon is confronting a broad range of serious environmental and natural resource issues, very often caused or worsened by internal and regional conflicts. The major thread is caused by the urban development, which leads to a cascade of other problems. The Foorprints’ motto “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints” is really spot on, considering the big littering problem. In fact it is impossible not to notice plastic bag and other trash sadly decorating the urban and peri-urban landscape. Shopping bags are for free and supermarkets’ attendants make a wild use of them.

Waste management is in general another headache. As collection does not go very smoothly, the garbage is often burnt or buried, causing air pollution as well as soil contamination, possibly even reaching the groundwater aquifer. Same risks are induced by pesticides used in agriculture. Also Water pollution is big issue, caused by untreated sewage on one side and industrial dumping and affecting both rivers and the sea.

On the other side, natural resources’ exploitation is intense and really stands out when roaming around Lebanon. Especially when it comes to quarries and soil exploitation, resulting in half-excavated hills and deeply wounded mountains.

There is also another aspect to be considered, that is the environmental damages caused by conflicts. It is something I hadn’t thought about before, but it is quite obvious in fact. Rubbles may contain polluting agents, bombed industries or power plant may contaminate soil, rivers or the coastline. For instance during the conflict between Israel and Lebanon in 2006, the bombing of Jiyeh power plant – which is halfway between Beirut and Saida, directly on the coast – resulted in a spillage of thousand of tones of oil into the Mediterranean sea, washing onto most of Lebanese shores.

In a LRRD perspective, environmental issues should be mainstreamed in all kind of aid interventions, either emergency or development, as it is heavily affecting people’s daily life and have the power to alter the country possibilities of future development. That is another reason why funds should be assigned on a longer term perspective, to allow such cross-cutting issues to be taken into account and at the same time to promote more sustainable measures and behaviours.

[1] For further information: http://www.footprintsclub.com/