Lebanese mountains are threatened by excessive quarrying

The mountains of Lebanon which trembled after the death of Humbaba, seems to be standing at the threshold of a new threat.

'Eco-militants' stand up to protect the natural mountains of Lebanon. © Wouter Hagens

Gilgamesh’s Babylonian epic located in the Lebanese mountains recounts that a Sumerian King travelled to Mount Lebanon, wherein he cuts down the famous cedar trees and also beheads Humbaba, the demigod who guarded the sacred land. Paul Abi Rached, the president of “Lebanon Eco Movement”, stated: “In the story, it is said the forest began to cry after Gilgamesh killed Humbaba. The trees from Mount Lebanon all the way to Mount Hermon began to tremble.”

The story is dated five thousand years ago, and it is now again that the Lebanese mountains are facing a threat which is imposed by the technologies and industrial drive of the modern world. Although, quarries that are not regulated has existed earlier in Lebanon but the acceleration in the pace in which the mountains are being destructed in the recent times seems to have “resurrected” the demigod Humbaba whose presence is seems to be felt amid the “angry Lebanese citizens” taking stands against the “demolition of their hometown”.

The term used by Abi Rached to describe these citizens is “eco-militants” and he has dedicated quite a lot of time to collaborate with them in the attempt of protecting the Lebanese mountains. Interestingly, the “most recent” successful outcome of these collaborations was seen last month on the “mountains of Tannourine”, as the locals persuaded the mayor to abandon a “quarrying deal”. While, the environmentalist added:
“I tell this story of Gilgamesh because people must know that Mount Lebanon was recorded in that ancient epic and [that] it had a protector”.

However, in order to bring in a true change in Lebanon, the government’s involvement in encapsulating the “values of the country’s oldest recorded defender” is a must. In recently published maps of Antoine Atallah, who is an architect as well as an activist, it is shown that “50 square kilometers of land in Lebanon” have been dug out for quarrying purpose which is over double the size of Beirut, as in comparison Beirut spreads across a land measuring only “22 square kilometres”.

However, the sites shown in the above mentioned map also include the ones that were abandoned long before the regulatory laws came into existence. After comparing the sites appearing in the map with the “2009 National Master Plan for Quarries”, it was found that the majority of the quarry sites outside the “legally defined quarry zones”. And Abi Rached said: “To begin a quarry, you must first abide by this national master plan, gain permission from the mayor of the municipality and then obtain a permit from the Higher Council of Quarries. But clearly, the government is giving permits and accepting the destruction of our mountains.”

According to Johnny Fenianos, an “environmental consultant” who works closely with NGO, said: “I don’t think that corruption is the reason for all of these quarries. Many of them don’t have permits. Depending on where they work, they can easily [do so] under the radar of the government. They provide economic opportunities to locals, which gives [local stakeholders] more incentive to agree.”

Moreover, Fenianos informs that Lebanon has exhausted its natural resources being their capacities, which is due to the “uncontrolled urbanization and unregulated construction”. In his words: “Look around you. Look at all the new buildings, all the empty buildings, the unfinished buildings. All of this is bad for Lebanon’s natural landscape.”

Furthermore, Abi Rached reminded that the “disastrous construction of dams” coupled with the inept landfills have also contributed to the “excessive quarrying”. Unfortunately, Abi Rached added: “The issue of Lebanon’s illegal quarries is so intertwined with [that of] Lebanon’s mafia. It’s an extremely difficult issue to tackle.”

In fact, Atallah said: “In Lebanon, you see so much preserved landscape that’s worth being protected. At the same time, you see threats everywhere that are beginning to endanger the space. Whether it’s [by] rampant uncontrolled urbanism, quarries [or] illegal dumps … everything clean and preserved in the Lebanese landscape is always endangered.”

In Fenianos’ words: “We are working on a few projects for rehabilitation of abandoned quarry sites and people are reacting super well. There are solutions that don’t have to be costly. But of course, it is still an investment.”

Even though, quarrying is required, it can still be done with minimal environmental impact, explained Fenianos, as he said: “Really, rehabilitation should start at the very same time you begin quarrying”.

Nevertheless, while talking about the Lebanese mountains threat, Fenianos noted that:
“I am not denying that quarrying is a problem. This is very easy to see, but actually the destruction of Lebanon’s coastline is much more urgent, as this cannot be redeemed.
“At least with quarries, we can work to make them less destructive to the environment, and we are.”