This Is North Lebanon That Our Governments Don’t Give A Shit About

A couple days ago, MTV Lebanon posted a controversial Christian-arousing report about how Lebanon’s Christian areas do not get funds for public works that its Muslim areas get, especially its Shiite ones. They threw around numbers for Baalbak and Hermel and compared them with the total of Batroun and Bsharre, called it a day and did what MTV does best: be more melodramatic about Christians in Lebanon than the Pope and the Patriarch will ever be combined.

Keep that report in mind (link).

Yesterday, Lebanon’s Ministry of Tourismreleased a beautiful video to promote tourism in the country called “Rise Above Lebanon” filmed using a drone over several Lebanese territories. I sat there through those 5 minutes, marveling at the perfect-angled footage of the place we call home.

And then the video was over before showing almost any footage of the place I call home, the North of the country.

What you got instead was a scene where some kid was playing happily in Nejmeh Square when people are NOT even allowed to Nejmeh Square anymore. A good part of the drone footage was also reserved for Zaitunay Bay. Because why not? #LiveLoveBeirutiCapitalism.

I enjoyed the video. Some of the footage shown is beautiful, diluting away the little big things that drive us mad about this country. Still, I didn’t know if it was my I-love-to-nag gene kicking, so I decided to test out the waters by voicing my thoughts about the North’s omission publicly. Many agreed. I was not being a paranoid northern regionalist holding out a pitchfork fighting for the land beyond the Madfoun.

It was then that I decided to go back and look at the data presented by MTV’s article to try and come to a different conclusion than the sectarian one they reached: what if you took those numbers and just added them up by mohafazat? What picture would it show then about how our government likes to spend our tax money?

These are the numbers grouped by Mohafazat. Amounts are in billion lira:

North:

  • Tripoli: 1.1
  • Bsharre: 0.1.
  • Batroun: 1.6.
  • Zgharta: 2.2.
  • Koura: 1.2.
  • Akkar: 3.3.
  • Menieh + Denniyeh: 2.4.

Total: 11.9. Per caza: 1.7.

South:

  • Sour: 5.
  • Jezzine: 0.35.
  • Saida: 5.

Total: 10.35. Per caza: 3.45.

Nabatiyeh:

  • Marjeaayoun: 4.2.
  • Bent Jbeil: 4.9.
  • Nabatiyeh: 7.1.
  • Hasbaya: 0.2.

Total: 16.4. Per caza: 4.1.

Mt. Lebanon:

  • Jbeil: 2.6
  • Baabda: 2.2.
  • Metn: 3.5.
  • Keserwen: 3.
  • Aley: 3.4.
  • Chouf: 3.7.

Total: 18.4. Per caza: 3.07.

Beqaa:

  • Baalbak: 12.8.
  • West beqaa: 3.4.
  • Rashaya: 1.5.
  • Zahleh: 5.4.
  • Hermel: 3.9.

Total: 27. Per caza: 5.4.

If you merge Nabatiyeh and the South mohafazats together, becoming an area that is more similar to North Lebanon when it comes to surface area and population, North Lebanon becomes the area receiving the least amount of investment from our governments, and it still applies when you adjust the amount per capita or per surface area.

Bsharre, the land that gave us the Cedars and Gebran and is the heart of Christianity in Lebanon for our Christian zealots, got less money in 2015 than what Issam Fares paid for his daughter’s wedding, or what our politicians spend on their lavish vacations in Mykonos or elsewhere.

And, clearly, we can’t make it for more than 20 seconds in a video to promote tourism in the country. I guess our governments think there’s nothing there to offer and there’s no point to put any effort. Is that way they wanted to turn Akkar into Beirut and Mount Lebanon’s garbage dump?

People in other areas nag about their infrastructure being subpar. Some areas in the North don’t have infrastructure to begin with. Some areas in Akkar don’t have road access yet and have only received electricity from our government recently. Do you know how they were going to sell Akkar’s garbage dump to the Akkaris? By giving them a highway.

Poverty rates in Tripoli and Akkar are among the country’s highest at around 50%. That’s basically half of the population in two of the country’s most populous areas living in conditions that everyone else in the country cannot even remotely begin to imagine. It’s not like extremism and poverty are linked in any way. It’s not like poverty can be tackled by investing in those people’s future. I guess they don’t deserve a second glance either.

This reality extends to the rest of the North. It seems the poorest Mohafaza in the country doesn’t need the attention. People in North Lebanon are embarking to Europe on boats, similarly to the Syrian refugees, to escape their horrid reality back home. Ponder on that thought for a moment.

There’s not much I can do to get our governments to care about our country’s areas that need it the most. It feels like beating a dead horse every time the topic is brought up. But know that every time you perpetuate the media they diffuse that ignores those areas, you’re also helping in maintaining the status quo, even if in a simple tourism video.

But I can show you what you’re missing on.

 

#ThisIsLebanon: Showing The Beauty Of The Country We Come From & Trying To Keep It

 

Lebanon is a gorgeous country. It takes an effort – at least for me – to try and see that in absolute value sometimes, but I can’t deny that there are instances where I can’t but marvel at the beauty of the country we call home.

To drive this point home and to encourage us to keep this country as such, or even make it better, Rani Nasr and Samah el Kadi, two aspiring Lebanese filmmakers, decided to do what they love best and make weekly videos highlighting beautiful landscapes in the country.

They just released the first video in the series, filmed in the Chouf mountains:

The next videos are filmed in various other locations in the country such as Tannourine, Ehden, Chahtoul, The Cedars, etc. As mentioned previously, they will be released in a weekly manner on this Facebook page (link).

Making the videos, however, was not as easy as just holding a camera and roaming around a beautiful forest or mountain. Due to Lebanese people being as they are, Rani Nasr informed me that he had to personally pick up garbage from entire landscapes just to be able to show how beautiful the place was and take a decent shot of it.

Not only is the nature we have left endangered by rabid urbanization, but also by people who can’t appreciate how beautiful it is and think that throwing their garbage wherever they may be is the way to go. You see, we are not victims of living in garbage. It is our choice. We chose for years to be a populace that litters all around, damaging the environment, helpless animals and ultimately ourselves. We also chose not to go back to what we know, our politicians, instead of what we need, a new system, when Beirut was drowning in garbage. We also chose to turn a blind eye to where the garbage filling Beirut’s streets is now being thrown.

He also told me about hunters roaming those areas just to kill deer and wildcats, either for BBQ purposes or to collect trophies on their walls. I had no idea Lebanon’s forests actually had deer, but it seems they do.

The biggest threat to our nature is us. How about we change that? Two things you can do that would help immensely are the following:

  1. Don’t throw your garbage anywhere and everywhere,
  2. Don’t kill harmless animals just because you’re bored.

I asked Rani if they intend to turn the #ThisIsLebanon movement into a #LiveLoveBeirut or #LiveLoveLebanon-esque entity, and he said no: it was just them doing what they loved, movies, to show what they loved, Lebanon’s nature. As such, they will not be monetizing off of it.

What they hope to accomplish is for their films to inspire people to want to see more of their country, to want to preserve the beauty and take positive steps in that direction: visit Lebanon’s natural reserves and help to preserve the forests by supporting them, not litter everywhere you go, marvel in the beauty of the country you live in and share it with whoever wants to see.

To end this on a more positive note, I figured I’d share a few pictures of the beauty of this country, with or without the hashtag #ThisIsLebanon, to drive the point home. The instagram accounts of the corresponding pictures will be mentioned in their caption, as well as their respective location.

You can follow the accounts here:

There’s a lot of beauty in the country beyond the confines of everyone’s Beiruti comfort zones. Go explore, return with beautiful pictures and change yourself and the country one beautiful landscape at a time. #ThisIsLebanon, and it’s worth discovering.

 

North Lebanon Will NOT Be Turned Into Beirut’s Garbage Dump

In a stroke of pure “magic,” our politicians have “solved” the country’s garbage crisis. In the beginning there was Sukleen and the Nehmeh dump. Now, we have Sukleen again – yes, seriously – and the Nehmeh dump, in Beirut’s proximity, has been moved to a place that’s more than a hundred kilometers away from Beirut.

In a stroke of utter “genius,” the Lebanese government has decided that the Northern caza of Akkar will now be where the people of Beirut and its suburbs dump their garbage. In case you had your doubts before, be certain now: Lebanon does not have its areas equal. There’s Beirut and Mount Lebanon, a beacon of hope and love to the masses and the tourists and where all the money flows, and there are the peripheries, notably North Lebanon, where the only thing fitting is to give its people those other regions’ trash.

Sukleen will also be handling garbage again at the price of about $160/ton, that’s more than what they used to get paid before, and about 4 times the normal amount that any decent country in the world pays to handle garbage.

Akkar – The Real Tragedy:

Here’s how the situation is in Akkar today:

  • There are villages that got electricity for the FIRST time in 2013 (link).
  • There are villages that do NOT have road access yet. I remind you this is 2015.
  • The caza does NOT have any decent hospital in it. Its people have to make the trip to Tripoli to begin getting decent medical coverage, and a lot of them have to make the trip even further south to Beirut in order not to die.
  • The caza does NOT have any decent schools and universities. Its people have to make the trip to Tripoli as well or move to Beirut for better opportunities.
  • Akkar is the country’s poorest area on record, only paralleled in poverty by Tripoli’s Tebbaneh and Jabal Mohsen areas. The numbers are astronomical: 40% of the population is considered poor and more than 18% live below the extreme poverty line.
  • The “best” way for the people of Akkar to make a living is for its men to risk their lives volunteering in the army; hence, calling Akkar “the basin of the army.”

Why don’t you hear about any of this? Well, I’ve tried to highlight how horrendous the condition in my region (the North) is on many occasions, but when it’s that *far* for the people of Beirut, as is anything north of the Madfoun checkpoint, nobody cares.

Another aspect of why you don’t hear about this is because no one, even Akkar’s politicians, care. The only time they do give a rat’s ass is come election time, in order to give the starving population a loaf of bread, a few sandwiches and a couple hundred bucks to sustain them through the coming four years (or seven).

Well, now we have another reason to give Akkar a second glance, so let’s spin this positively: Lebanon’s politicians have FINALLY remembered Akkar other than at the time of elections. Hurray!

How so? Well, our government and politicians want to turn areas of Akkar into the garbage dump for Beirut and its Greater Area’s garbage. Obviously, because they say no other region in the country can work, but it’s because the people there are so poor they can’t fight the decision of the government to kill them before their own eyes.

The details of the Akkar deal are as follows:

Ahmad el Hariri met several weeks ago with Tarek El Marhebi, the son of former MP Talal el Marhebi, who agreed to give him a land of around 1.4 million squared meters, to which was added another property culminating in about 2 million squared meters of area, in order to create a garbage dump to solve Beirut’s garbage problem, in an area is called Srar.

The Ministry of Environmental Affairs then studied the land and came to the conclusion that the type of soil used was NOT compatible with that required to do a dump, risking the toxins of the garbage infiltrating down to the underground water, which supplies the many villages of the caza since the government has NOT supplied the area with water as it is.

The Future Movement figures involved the aforementioned deal “denied” such claims a few weeks back. Today, with the news of such a dump being closer to reality than anyone expended, the claims they denied are not only true, they’re becoming a reality.

How is the government trying to buy the silence of the people in Akkar in order to effectively kill them with the waste of a region that is more than a hundred kilometers away? 100 million USD will be used to fund select developmental projects in the caza over the course of the next three years, money that is Akkar’s right and for which it does NOT have to reciprocate with receiving Beirut’s garbage. And to make things worse, the area will probably never going to see that development anyway.

This is governance 001 for the Lebanese system that doesn’t seem to care for an area unless it’s called Beirut and Friends:

  1. No, it’s not acceptable to silence the people of that area with money that you haven’t used for years to give them their rightful development, money that is rightfully theirs,
  2. No, it’s not acceptable to risk the health and lives of hundreds of thousands of people because you’re worried about the image that having your capital drown in garbage gives to the world,
  3. No, it’s not acceptable to risk the greenest region in the country’s environment because you’re too bloody corrupt to come up with a solution that limits your monetary return,
  4. No, it’s not acceptable and will not be accepted that Akkar ends up as Beirut’s garbage dump.

Akkar Isn’t The Only Northern Entity To Get Screwed:

If you thought Akkar was alone in getting screwed, you thought wrong. The entire North is under threat of being turned into Beirut’s waste disposal zone. Batroun’s areas of Hamat and Rasenhash have received a few shipments of garbage trucks from Beirut already. For reference, the area has your very lovable picturesque Nourieh convent.

Kefraya, in the Koura caza, also received a few garbage shipments, as did the city of Amioun before its people blocked roads and protested.

Tripoli is also having a true environmental disaster as it keeps getting shipments of Jounieh’s garbage, which are polluting its sea, soil and air. In the meantime, Jounieh’s mayor is bragging his city is the first to clear its garbage mess. How despicable.

North Pride:

I’m a son of the North. Batroun is my home. Koura is my home. Tripoli is my home. Akkar is my home. This is my land, and I will not have my land ruined, tarnished, maimed and irrevocably damaged just because I exist in a system that thinks I’m worthless for not having “Mount Lebanon” or “Beirut” stamped across my ID.

I’m a son of the North. My region is the country’s most forgotten, most ignored, most ridiculed and most stereotyped. My region is the country’s least developed and least considered (except when it’s for garbage it seems).

I’m a son of the North, and I will not have my home be filled with the garbage of those who not only couldn’t care less about it, but who will very likely not give a rat’s ass about where their garbage is heading the moment they don’t see it on their streets anymore.

I’m a son of the North and I say this: “Kell wa7ad yemsa7 kha*a b ido.” 

R.I.P Maamoun Khaled Mohammad: Dead Because a Lebanese Hospital Refused to Admit Him For Money

In the ongoing bickering between the ministry of finance and the ministry of health, who pays the price?  The poor citizens of Lebanon who can’t afford not being helped do. And they pay their share extravagantly.

Maamon Khaled Mohammad is a baby boy, younger than 2 years old, who died yesterday as Al Shifa’ hospital in Tripoli, North Lebanon refused to admit him. His parents didn’t have money. They were one of many Lebanese families who relied on the help of the ministry of health in order to seek hospitalization.

It is illegal for a hospital to refuse care for a critically-ill patient in Lebanon, regardless of money. But this isn’t the country where legalities matter.

This baby boy is the victim of a decree that the minister of finance Mohammad Safadi did not sign. He is the first of many victims to come if the current situation between the aforementioned ministries continues. But don’t mind the people who are dying, we have a retarded electoral law to ratify and minority MPs to increase and security situations to fix.

North Lebanon is the poorest region in the country with a poverty rate of over 52%. Many of those families don’t have money for food, let alone for our expensive hospitals. What will those families do now? The answer is quite simple: die.

Rest in peace Maamoun Khaled Mohammad.

The Cedars & North Lebanon’s Mountains

I finally had enough time on my hand to visit one of my favorite places in Lebanon: the Cedar mountains. They are probably the most underrated locations in the country and are nowhere near as visited as they should be because, quite frankly, very few places in this country can rival them in sheer landscape beauty.

Using my iPhone 5’s panorama feature, I was able to capture what I believe are pretty decent shots of the drive up to the mountains, the town of Becharre with its snowy mountainous backdrop, the Cedar Mountains themselves and part of the Kadisha Valley known as Qozhaya on the way back.

These locations may be far from Beirut – about 130 km – but they’re worth every single minute spent driving and every dollar spent in gas. I think I’m lucky that I live nearby and only need about 30 minutes to get there.

The slopes are superior to those of Mzaar/Sectarian-Kfardebyan and while they are less taken care of, they’re much cheaper and you will be able to get your full money’s worth out of them. The people are a whole lot friendlier as well.

So while many Lebanese are overjoyed that some international publication (click here) has chosen Beirut as the #1 city destination of the region – as if that’s a very hard thing to pull off – I felt like I ought to highlight something in Lebanon that is so ahead any form of “best of” competition in this region that it’s #1 always.

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 4

The Mountains from the village of Qnat

 

 

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars 13

The view from Hadath el Jebbeh

North Lebanon Mountains Becharre Cedars

Becharre (on the right) with its mountains behind it

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 6

The drive up to the Cedar Mountains

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 7

Some of Lebanon’s Cedars – not the main forest, obviously

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 8

Panoramic view of part of the mountains

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars - 9

Part of the Cedar forest

North Lebanon Mountains Cedars Qozhaya

The drive to Qozhaya

 

North Lebanon Mountains Qozhaya Annoubin Kadisha

The view from St. Anthony of Qozhaya convent (on the left) – part of the Kadisha Valley