Syrian Brown Bears, Thought To Have Been Extinct From Lebanon For 60 Years, Seen In The Beqaa

syrian-brown-bear-lebanon

To break away from the string of saddening and corrupt news emanating from this country since the start of the new year, it brings me so much joy to write about this.

Towards the end of December, a group of youngsters scouting the hills of the Anti-Lebanon mountain range in the Bekaa, about 6 kilometers Northeast of Baalbak, spotted two animals that have not been seen in Lebanon for around 60 years: since 1958, to be precise.

The Syrian Bear, whose latin name is Ursus arctos syriacus, was originally found in Lebanon towards the end of the 19th century but was haunted almost to extinction so that, since 1960, the only pair present in the country are at a reserve in the Chouf.

The video, which was posted by GreenArea and later on picked up by multiple news outlets and blogs, shows the mother bear and her cub circling around the snow, probably in search for a safer or warmer area.

The presence of the cub with his mother means that the pair’s habitat is probably nearby as the cub couldn’t be more than a year old, which is how long mothers tend to take care for their offspring in that species. Its estimate birth is around spring of 2016 or slightly earlier.

This sighting is historic because the closest area these bears were spotted previously was around 500km away, in Turkey, even though they used to inhabit the areas of Mount Lebanon quite frequently around 100 years ago.

To say that these bears MUST BE PROTECTED (all caps, shouting from the rooftops) is of utmost importance. Not only are they on the endangered animals list with the threat of going extinct worldwide, but up to this point we had lost them from Lebanon.

It’s the responsibility of our Ministry of Environment, as well as ours, to make sure that locals of the area do not decide to flex their hunting muscles and go seek out the bears to add them to a list of animal trophies, and to designate the area they’ve taken up habitat as protected.

This further shows that mother nature has its own way to establish normality when humans don’t come interfering in it.

Lebanon’s Government Is Destroying A Phoenician Beach In Adloun To Build A Port

  
About 15 minutes south of Saida is a small coastal Lebanese town in the South called Adloun. Most of us hadn’t heard of it before, but it’s actually one of the longest inhabited areas in our country with evidence pointing to human activity there around 70,000BC; it’s a little town filled with prehistoric caves and Phoenician ruins.

And those are not even what make it special.

Being a coastal town, Adloun has one of the few remaining beaches in the area that have not been privatized yet, and is now being actively destroyed by Lebanon’s government.

According to this study, the governmental project will affect the following areas of the beach:

  • The location of the prehistoric caves,
  • The location of an ancient Phoenician port,
  • The location of ancient Phoenician ruins and ornaments.

And, because that is not enough, our government will also do a little of land reclamation, effectively killing off one of the last remaining habitats for sea turtles in Lebanon, as well as affecting the ecology of the entire area with its diverse plants.

What is this governmental project that our government has been hell-bent for years to do, and are currently doing as you can see by the following pictures?

They are building a port that is bigger than that of Saida and Sour, in a town that houses far less people, none of whom are fishermen who operate boats in the first place.

So what will the purpose of that port be? It’s going to be turned into a “touristic” yacht docking site for those who can afford yachts in the first place and who want to come to the area for visits. The town’s mayor says that is not the case. What is true, however, is that the port is officially named after “Nabih Berri.” Maybe our speaker of parliament wants a place closer to home to dock his boat?

As it is with Lebanon, the project is also riddled with corruption. The bidding process for the project was canceled once because the initial prices were deemed unacceptable before finally hiring Khoury Contracting at a fee around 1.66 million dollars higher than the one they offered in the initial bidding. I guess the ministry in question felt generous?

On January 15th, 2016, Khoury Contracting sent its bulldozers to the beach and started work without prior notification. They’re currently establishing access to the beach by digging up a road for more bulldozers to come and finish what’s already started.

Who Cares About Sea Turtles And Phoenician Stuff Anyway?

Good job Lebanon’s government. Those sea turtles can always find another country to go and become unwanted pests in. Those plants? Who needs them. It’s not like ecology or the environment matter anyway. Phoenicia? Do we really want some Lebanese to further cling to that unwanted part of our history?

Keeping a free beach for the people of the area to visit? Who’d want that as well, bring in the money!

Let them destroy the beach. Let them destroy everything as they’ve done to the country for years now. They’ve actively destroyed countless similar sites before, why not this one too? It’s not like anything is relevant when you have the prospects of a port named after a politician!

Let them destroy the beach. It’s better for that beach and for that heritage not to see how abysmal the country our ancestors called home has become à la famous saying: عين لا ترى، قلب لا يوجع.

For a government that has shown repeatedly how apt it is at failing, it should come as no wonder that they’d not only do such a thing but also make sure that it passes by unnoticed. 

For a government and people that went up in a fit about the destruction of heritage at the hands of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, how is this any difference? Or does our own history not matter enough because it’s not called Palmyra?

There has been no back to back coverage for Adloun’s heritage. Is it not juicy enough for Lebanon’s media because it cannot be spun into attractive بالصور and بالفيديو headlines?

Among the many travesties taking place in the country today, this is a massacre of heritage and environment. The sad part is? It’s too late to do anything now.

Say bye to the turtles; say bye to that ancient site. They were present in a country that didn’t deserve them anyway. 

 

When Lebanon Drowns In Garbage… Again

Lebanon Garbage Problem

If there’s one quality that can apply to Lebanese society and our form of governance, it’s that we always reactive rather than proactive, which is to say we never face a crisis looming on the horizon by driving off the road leading to it; we just continue driving until we fall off the cliff… and then we start searching for ways to build a parachute in the free fall.

This applies to so many things in the country: from presidential elections, to parliamentary elections, to the current garbage status. I can’t even believe we are discussing garbage, but here we are.

At a time when Sweden ran out of garbage and is looking to import some to produce energy (link), Lebanon will soon start piling up its garbage on the streets of Beirut and its other cities, because we have no place to dispose of them.

 

As a reminder, this was how things were last year:

The problem back then had one aspect: the residents of the country’s main landfill, Naameh, cut off the roads leading to the dump to protest the toxic effect of having such a facility close to where they lived: the place was supposed to be a temporary landfill for 6 years and hold a maximum of two million tons of waste; it has been in use for more than 17 and currently has more than 15 million tons.

Negotiations with residents at the time culminated in them stopping their protests and allowing Sukleen’s trucks to deposit garbage for a limited period of time – one that has now expired – as the government searches for other ways to address Lebanon’s garbage problem, which the government clearly did not do.

The problem today, however, is two-fold: the agreement with the residents of Naameh has run its course, and as such the roads to the Naameh landfill are closed once again. However, this time around, there isn’t anyone to collect the garbage in the first place because, as of July 17th, the government’s agreement with Sukleen had also expired. Hurray for efficiency.

As of now, you will see Sukleen employees sweeping the sidewalks, and picking up your dog poop if you live in Achrafieh, but they won’t be picking up your garbage. Brace yourself for the stench.

In numbers, this is Lebanon’s garbage status:

  • We produce 1.57 million tons of solid waste a year, with a 1.65% annual growth rate.
  • Per capita, we produce 1.1 tons of solid waste, this follows the regional average, but is far below that of developed countries (obviously).
  • 53 % of Lebanon’s solid waste goes to landfills.
  • 30 % is disposed in dumps.
  • 17 % is recycled or composted.

I don’t know how a government can be this clueless as to let this issue run its course twice in its lifetime, but they have. Not only is the country drowning in corruption, wastas and “you rub my back so I rub yours” mentalities, but you can now add literal garbage to the list… again.

This will not be fixed until some political hail Mary takes over and a band-aid is placed, once again. As I said, we don’t live in a country of a futuristic vision, but of temporary fixes. In a few days, when the sidewalks have garbage bags and not people, the outcry will prove deafening to our officials not to do anything. They will scramble to negotiate a new agreement with Sukleen. Then they will convince the residents of Naameh that the toxic fumes of 15 million tons of waste are not that bad, and we will pretend things are okay, until this repeats in a year or two or five.

Here are a few headlines on how to maybe address the issue from its core:

1 – Recycling:

In the short months that I lived in Lille and NYC, every single item of solid trash that I produced had to be sorted into different piles of trash, depending on whether that got recycled or whether it got composted. Papers went into one pile, cans went into another and the rest went into a dispenser.

Recycling will not only decrease the load that Lebanon’s landfills have to handle daily, but it will also make the country more environmentally conscious. The problem with this is that it needs a huge paradigm shift in how Lebanese look at their garbage. Will they do the effort to sort? I honestly doubt.

2 – Incinerators:

We have electricity issues. We also have garbage issues. Why not try to fix the former with the latter? Garbage incinerators that produce energy can help Lebanon’s ailing electricity sector.

The problem with the incinerators is that, when not properly maintained, they will produce immense levels of pollution and the maximum level at which they can handle waste is about 160 tons a day; for reference, the Naameh landfill, the country’s biggest, handles about 2800 tons a day.

The limited capacity of such incinerators means that many are required to have a dent in Lebanon’s garbage problem. The problem with them being as polluting as they are is that finding a location for them is probably harder than finding locations for new dumps or landfills. Moreover, we all know the government won’t bother making sure the incinerator plants are up to environmental qualifications.

3 – New Landfills:

I mean, really, why not? If recycling is too hard, and incinerators are too costly/polluting, then why not invest in new landfills in some remote, poorly-inhabited regions provided that such landfills be maintained and properly handled, which is to say that those landfills should not become lands filled with garbage, but rather lands where garbage is handled in environmental and scientifically decent ways, for a minute period of time, in a plan that spans several years in order not to fall into the same problem… again.

4 – Export It:

Instead of drowning in garbage, why not sell it? Sweden wants some. Norway wants some. I’m sure we can find an Arab country who’s willing to take it at a bargain. Why not just get rid of it? It’s not like we know what to do with it here.

5 – Tax It:

At a growth rate of 1.65% yearly, the garbage we produce will soon become too much for what we can handle anyway, even if temporary measures are placed. Why not have a tax on how much garbage a household can produce before they have to pay for the handling of whatever they’re producing? Such taxes can be made in such a way to fund environmentally friendly projects in the country.

Conclusion:

The country needs drastic measures to address the garbage issue. At a time when Sweden is importing trash because they’ve run out of it, it’s horrifying to think that a country such as Lebanon not only doesn’t have a place for its own trash, but literally has no idea how to handle it.

How many times should we drown in garbage before we learn that temporary fixes are not okay?

How many times should we drown in garbage before we learn that if those in power can’t handle our waste, then how can we entrust them with more pressing issues?

Welcome to the republic of garbage, taking it literally since 2014.

Lebanon’s New Ambitious Startup: Turning Car Tires Into Fashion

Lebanon is the country where car tires have functions that surpass them being, well, the things on which cars roll. 

Where we come from, tires can be used to block off roads by protestors. They can also be used by the police or contractors to divert traffic. And, when shit hits the fan, they serve as incenerator hubs to fill Beirut’s sky with marks of some group’s political anger. Speaking of burning tires, it has been a long time, hasn’t t?

A Lebanese startup, called VEA, started by Patrick El Zoghbi aiming to protect the environment in the region while finding new ways to use material that would have been otherwise detrimental to nature and to our health. 

The entire premise of VEA is to be an environmentally friendly company. From having minimal printing policies, to using only recycled paper up to their main motivation: turning tires into fashion items, including using environmentally friendly items in those fashion items.

This is what VEA is set on producing:

   

           

I think the plan is extremely ambitious. I commend VEA for their efforts in 1) providing alternatives to the Lebanese and International market that divert from the regular available items they’re selling, 2) doing so in a way that is both environmentally friendly and innovative and 3) having it actually be affordable. 

The price range for the above items ranges from $50 to $1000, so it is affordable for a wide range of people.

To do all of this, VEA needs your help. Check out the following link for more information. Help them out – it’s always good to make sure Lebanese aspirations don’t get squashed because of lack of funds.

This is a video explaining the whole process: 

http://youtu.be/pAAqqmuAXuA

Harissa To Become Nature Reserve

The view from Harissa sure is great if you scan the bay. Look down and it’s a disaster: ugly buildings springing up everywhere, eating away the mountain and the greenery, infesting their way around like cancer cells – uncontrolled and non-stopped.

Nazem Khoury, minister of environment in our dissolved government has, therefore, issued a new decree to turn the Harissa mountain into another nature reserve to stop the pangs of urbanism and keep whatever form of nature that the mountain had intact. The conversion to a nature reserve will happen with the help of the Maronite patriarchate and the Jounieh municipality (link).

Good news? Perhaps it is. But only for Harissa, which seems is still salvageable enough despite the many concrete blocks that have ruined part of it forever.

However, the question begets itself: what about the countless other mountains which do not happen to be religious shrines, do not get similar attention and do not exist in areas which are of touristic focus?

Turning Harissa to a nature reserve is a positive step. But it’s troubling that we need to turn an entire mountain into a nature reserve just to protect it from impeding construction and real estate. Is our only environmental solution to spring up nature reserves here and there just because we do not have a grasp on existing laws and cannot really contain the corruption that infests real estate and the mentalities of people towards the environment, à la nature is God’s given poubelle of the Lebanese people?

Because the root of the problem isn’t fixed, there will be another mountain out there which causes some environmental outrage down the road, maybe even bigger than Harissa. Nature reserves are needed, sure. But what we need even more is for municipalities across the country to be more stringent in the criteria employed to give away building licenses. We need relevant ministries to be more strict with urbanism laws that require certain standards be met, along the lines of no apartment complexes should spring up in Lebanese mountains where they don’t belong.

I doubt any of the aforementioned will happen anytime soon. Such issues are forcibly ranked so low on our list of priorities they might as well be deemed irrelevant. Good news for Harissa.

 

Turning Lebanon Green?

Lebanon is anything but an environmentally friendly country. A simple five minute drive is always littered with people throwing things out of their car, with pile-ups of garbage on the sides of the highway, with smoke emanating from factories aptly located on our beaches…

Our electrical resources – whatever’s available of them at least – all rely of fossil fuel. The list of Lebanon’s lack of environmental friendliness can include non-existent sewage systems, non-insulated housing, etc.

The root of the problem, however, isn’t in houses and fuel electrical plants. It’s in the idea that throwing a (non-biodegradeable) bag out of your car is better than keeping it inside. As simple as that idea is, it happens very frequently and is a testament to the mentalities of people regarding the matter. The danger of such an idea is in its reflection on higher-up authorities, manifesting in an absolute lack of policies regarding the environment.

Perhaps turning Lebanon green isn’t among our priorities as a nation. After all, the current political debacle is about anything but the environment. However, with impeding gas and oil drilling, shouldn’t we start thinking more about how such projects impact where we live given that we might end up with the resources to think about such entities?

But it’s not all bad. There are current projects aimed at harnessing renewable energy for electricity purposes, of which I note Lebanon’s first win turbine (info) and covering the Beirut River with solar panels (info), regardless of any comments I might have on the projects. There are also people working to turn Lebanon green and more environmentally aware in the form of NGOs and environmental organizations.

Of those organizations is a new one called Lebanon Going Green (Facebook page) which is working at getting people to adopt a “greener” lifestyle. To illustrate what they’re trying to do, the following is something they highlighted.

Take a look at this house in Batroun:

Batroun House Environment

It’s an old, typical house. I’d say there’s nothing really special about it besides the location – it faces the sea. Perhaps it might be charming for some.

Now take a look at the same house again, this time in its current state:

Batroun House Environment 2What if I told you the above renovation was completely green-friendly and doesn’t cost more than similar luxury houses built in non-enviornmental ways?

The house has a green rooftop with an irrigation system that re-uses the water utilized by the house. The home appliances employed are all energy friendly, effectively reducing the house’s electricity consumption considerably. The wood you see is all treated and was used to replace cement in order to reduce the house’s carbon footprint. The walls inside the house were reinforced with reused wood. The house is also completely insulated, which further reduces the inhabitant’s need for heating.

Another example of Lebanese environmentally-friendly companies is Cedar Environmental, which has built 11 facilities since 1999 to  accommodate up to 47,000 tons of waste. The waste received is turned into EU-certified fertilizers, furniture, etc…. Many of the furniture they make is donated to schools.

Perhaps people are becoming more aware about the need to be more careful with how they treat the place we’re all living in. For instance, the event Lebanon Going Green held at AUB a couple of weeks ago was completely booked, which indicates interest. But it’ll be a while before Lebanon goes green. However, with firm steps in that direction and no politically motivated people to create hurdles, I don’t see why those steps will stop.

Kudos to everyone involved in the aforementioned projects.

Lebanon Has The World’s Oldest Living Olive Trees

Lebanon Olive Trees of noah sisters Bechaaleh Lebanon

It seems our Cedars have another tree that’s giving them a run for their money. According to this article (link) that a friend sent me, Lebanon houses the world’s oldest living olive trees in the village of Bechaaleh in the Batroun caza.

The trees, which are over 6000 years old, have withstood a whole lot in their history including severe exploitation, climate changes and governments which, quite simply, don’t give a rat’s ass about such a thing. At 1300 meters of altitude, their location is also unique as it is rare for olive trees to grow at altitudes above 1000m.

I’ve always known the town of Bechaaleh, a 15 min drive from my hometown Ebrine, housed old olive trees but I didn’t know they were the world’s oldest. I guess I must visit soon – if the roads permit (Batroun’s roads are horrible [pictures]).

Let’s hope we don’t end up having an environment minister like our current minister of culture Gaby Layoun who doesn’t care the least about preserving the environment and ends up hacking these trees away. You know it’s entirely possible in such a country.

Until then, I figured this is interesting enough to break the whole Ali Abdallah – Snowstorm mania.