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The Lebanese Coast


        This book of photographs is unique in that it pictures the Lebanese coastal zone from the sea. What we have been used to in similar books was to look from land to sea; here we are looking from sea to land. This turning of the picture outside in is extremely significant since it provides for viewing the coast not only aesthetically but also environmentally, making many beauties stand out in a new perspective.

Carl Stephan looks at the earth from the sky as a part of his profession. After studying architecture, he specialized in aerial photography, photogrammetry, and cartography, and received training as a pilot. He makes his living from flying, taking aerial photos and producing maps. But as flying gives him the kick of joy and freedom, he mixed his profession with a hobby. Once he saw his house from the sky, and it looked different. He realized that it was quite a different experience to see things from above, as we are accustomed to watch while walking, or more often while driving in a car. The sea, the coast, the houses, the fishermen, the forests, all looked different. After enjoying this fantastic experience alone for years, Carl decided to invite others to join him in this discovery: the land from the sea and the sky. His camera has caught many ugly things across the shore, but he wanted his book to reflect beautiful images. He decided to show the beauty in a realistic approach. Although this book contains many ravishing images, it was meant to capture true moments of nature, and not to transform nature into abstract art.

From Arida in the north to Naqoura in the south, the Lebanese coast extends about 225 kilometres, covering 162,000 hectares of coastal plains and hills, or 16 percent of Lebanon’s surface area, where 2.6 million inhabitants, or 70 percent of the population, live. Lebanon’s economic activity is concentrated in this zone which contributes about three quarters of the national income.

Taking our start from the northern region, located between the Syrian border and Al Jawz river in Batroun, our tour commences in Akkar. Facing the Mediterranean in this area are mountainous slopes, on the versants of which stands the fertile plain of Akkar meeting the sea at a sandy bay. Besides its agricultural importance, this plain contains remnants of ancient castles and fortresses like those of the Roman period in Arqa. Reaching Tripoli with its towering castle and rich monuments, we come upon an archaeological marvel of the eastern Mediterranean. Founded by the Phoenicians and witnessing the presence of Romans, Byzantines, Arabs, Europeans, Mameluks, and Ottomans, this prestigious city has become a living museum, hosting more than 150 landmarks of all those eras. Its harbour dates back to ancient times, and three of its tiny islands have been claimed a natural reserve. Southward stands the town of Anfé with its Phoenician harbour and early Christian relics, besides vast areas of saline marshes extending between the feet of the hills with their olive trees and the sea. Following is the cape of Shaqaa, distinguished for natural beauty and biodiversity, and for its rocky cliffs towering over 200 metres, on top of which perches the famous Nouriyya (Lady of Illumination) monastery. Then comes the town of Batroun (Botrys) with its picturesque narrow pathways leading to the sea, and with its Phoenician remains like the maritime wall, dockyards, and stone graves, besides roman and Christian remains.

The second stage in our tour is the central area of the Lebanese coast, falling between Al Jawz river in the north and Al Awali river in the south. Here we start with the renowned town of Jbeil (Byblos), put since 1983 on the world heritage list of the UNESCO. With its sea castle, harbour, temples, and alleys, Byblos is one of the most ancient human settlements on the Mediterranean. Its name is associated with the invention of the alphabet and of navigation, and it is amply mentioned in the hieroglyphic inscriptions of Egypt. Many of its archaeological specimens stand proudly in world museums. Next in our itinerary is Jounieh, with one of the most beautiful bays in the Mediterranean, forming a safe natural harbour which dominates a series of breathtaking mountains like that of Harissa. The city of Jounieh contains an interior market (souk) famous for its architectural wealth. Then comes Nahr (river) Al Kalb, a unique historical location in Lebanon. Near its mouth stands a wonderful stone bearing original inscriptions of kings and conquerors who came to Lebanon – Egyptians, Assyrians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and French. Overlooking the river are remains of a Roman road built around 177 A.D. during the reign of Marcus Aurelius, with an aqueduct. Approaching the capital is an industrialized stretch facing the thickly populated area of Dbayeh – Antelias – Dora and overlooking the hills and mountains of Al matn. Coming to Beirut, one arrives at the most important archaeological centre in the Middle East with many Phoenician, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman sites. The seaport of Beirut is renowned since ancient times. Its beautiful bay and rock of Raouché are touristic Hotpoints. The city is a local, regional, and international metropolis of learning, banking, business, and tourism. Its commercial heart is witnessing a vigorous activity of rebuilding after the damages of the civil war (1975 – 1990).

The southern area of the Lebanese coast extends from Al Awali river to the cape of Naqoura. Perhaps the most beautiful scenery on the way to Awali is the fertile plain of Damour, rich in its biodiversity and a haven for migrating birds. On the Awali river stands an old bridge with a single arch and several mills on the banks. Saida, or old Sidon, is the first city of south Lebanon, with its majestic sea castle and remains of an ancient harbour, besides an important seaport. Famous throughout the ancient world, Sidon became part of the Arab culture since the seventh century A.D. It is a natural museum of Mediterranean civilizations, with its many relics and inscriptions. Next comes Tyr, a great Phoenician city-state that established colonies in the Mediterranean basin like Carthage, and resisted bravely the desirous kings of Assyria, Persia, and Greece. Its existing ruins, the most important of which are the Roman arch of triumph, stadium, and bathrooms, give evidence to its glory. In 1984 it was put on the world heritage list. The cultural sites of Tyr extend until Rashidiyya; then comes the cape of Naqoura, a distinctive landscape rich in citrus orchards, sandy beaches, and biodiversity.

So far we have seen the shining side of the picture, on which this lovely book concentrates. However, like all Lebanon, coastal Lebanon has a dark picture as well, both environmentally and aesthetically. Taking our trip back from south to north, we first find out that the Naqoura beach has lost huge quantities of its sand during the last two decades, and so also the beach of Tyr. At the eastern inlet of Tyr the shore was filled up to lose all its sands and precious relics for the benefit of the highway. In Saida, the plan of the marine facade, put into action since 1995, has led to the loss of a considerable area of the northern beach, the total isolation of ancient Sidon from the sea, and the damage of the old harbour’s basin. The solid waste dump on the shore has grown into a mountain, protruding dozens of metres inside and transporting its garbage to neighbouring shores. The garbage problem has recently touched the charming villages on the hills east of Saida.

Between Saida and Beirut (and even many kilometres southward), one can hardly have access to the sea due to touristic and industrial establishments. The green plane of Damour is being threatened mainly by touristic projects. Tin slums were built illegally between Khaldé and Ouzai, just in the vicinity of Beirut International Airport, lacking sewage networks and public services. The only tiny beach left for the public is that of Ramlet Al Baida near Raouché; but it is the mostly polluted on the Lebanese coast.

Reaching Beirut, we remark that the master plan for rebuilding has allowed for an area of 60 hectares, equivalent to one third of the city centre, to be reclaimed from the sea. The coast of Matn is highly industrialized in such a way that bars public access almost totally, a situation aggravated by a development plan launched in 1983 to erect a new town along the Antelias – Dbayeh shoreline after claiming 1.4 million square metres from the sea. Between Jounieh and Jbeil many recreational projects have appeared arbitrarily, and the electricity factory of Zouk pollutes neighbouring towns and villages, even far in the mountains, ruthlessly.

Much pollution is diffused from the chemical factory of Selaata and the cement factory of Chekka, both in the Batroun region, to cover vast areas in sea an on land. The marine reserve of Batroun has no management or conservation plan. While Anfé preserves its fascinating saline swamps, olive plains, and ancient remains thanks to town planning regulations, its northern neighbour Qalmoun has lost all its salt-producing basins except one, to be left with a highly polluted shoreline. Anfé itself faces the danger of unplanned urbanization, having witnessed a boom in sea resorts and housing. Tripoli, the second city of Lebanon, suffers mainly from problems of wastewater, and its harbour is spotted with large leaks of petroleum. Big projects of housing, industry, and tourism are hastily claiming planted areas in Tripoli. The Corniche is the only remaining lung through which the capital of north Lebanon breathes. In Akkar, where our trip started, the sea is extremely polluted, solid wastes fill the shoreline which lost much of its sand, whole agricultural areas are being lost for the benefit of urbanization and free trade, and thousands of tin slums fill the coast.

The same severe threats afflict the coastal region from north to south: unregulated disposal of solid waste, wastewater, oil residue, chemical pollution, privatization of the coastline, and beach quarrying. Of the 4000 tons of solid waste generated every day, some 3000 tons are dumped along the coast or reach the sea through rivers and streams. Some of the debris comes from construction work, forming bottom and floating garbage. Wastewater, including sewage, is discharged directly into the sea or nearby rivers, with a daily average of half million cubic metres, causing serious health problems on beaches. Oil pollution comes from storage stations and tankers. Chemical pollution, creating health hazards mainly from acids, alkalis, heavy metals, solvents, detergents, ammoniacal nitrogen, and pesticides, is discharged from more than 40 industrial zones along the coast. Privatization of the coastline, especially during the civil war period and aftermath, though mostly unregulated and illegal, left a long stretch of the coast littered with beach resorts, robbing citizens of their right of access to the sea, although decrees and laws grant public access to maritime domain, yet allowing limited coastal tourism and industrial projects. Finally, natural sand dunes, serving mainly as shock absorbers of the coastline, have been mercilessly exploited, with an estimate of 1.5 million cubic metres of sand being annually extracted for construction, though a 1994 decree made beach quarrying illegal.

Of this marine pollution, 77 percent is land-based. Viewing the Lebanese coastal zone from sea, as these professional photographs allow us to do, is both thrilling and alarming. The beauty of plains, hills, valleys, and mountains overlooking the sea, majestic as it is, remains, like that of the coastline itself, only a trace of past beauty. The once green plains and hills facing the Mediterranean have mostly become, from north to south, bulks of stone and cement, giving evidence to a frantic activity of an ill-planned development.

Where can we find solutions for this deteriorating situation of the Lebanese coast? How are we to reclaim the beautiful Lebanon of poets, painters, travellers, and even that of our own memories? Laws seem not to be lacking. Since the 1970’s Lebanon has actually signed several international and regional treaties to protect its maritime environment, like the UNEP Mediterranean Action Plan, the Barcelona Convention for the protection of the Mediterranean sea against pollution, the Paris Convention concerning the protection of the world cultural and natural heritage, the International Convention (MARPOL) for protection from ship pollution, the Basel Convention to control transboundary movement of hazardous waste, the UN Convention on the law of the sea, and the UN Framework on biological diversity.

What is needed, besides the law, is the will and the power to enforce the law. The romantic campaigns of nature lovers who, once a year or so, call for cleaning the coast and for similar undertakings are authentically sincere and noble. But though they set a good example for the public, these activities will not do as a serious solution. What is needed on this level is not such calls and campaigns, but rather perceptive and wholehearted statesmen who, while inducing the necessary laws, introduce the relevant organs to enforce them. In other words, the Lebanese coast, as well as the whole environment in Lebanon, needs “policemen”, not “scavengers”.

However, any solution of the complicated problems of our coast are to be envisaged in the light of the whole, that is of the total environmental and developmental needs of Lebanon. If we are to achieve the much desired aim of sustainable development, we have to keep in mind this golden rule: that development and environment are so intimately related that what animates the one animates the other and what annihilates the one annihilates the other. We are proud that in our magazine Environment & Development we have always drawn attention to this fact and to the urgent environmental concerns on the Lebanese, Arab, and world levels. A final word concerning the Lebanese coast is that any sustainable development of the coastal zone ought to take into consideration the short term preservation and the long term restoration of public access to the coast and beaches of Lebanon, and that any future project should respect, as decreed, this access and the continuity of the coastline.

This book of Carl Stephan carries a message of hope: Although a lot of our natural coastal heritage has been destroyed, a lot more remains intact. Showing the natural beauty of our coast as this book does is a call both to preserve what remains and to repair damage caused to the sectors destroyed by over-exploitation, industry, and chaotic urban growth. Should Carl Stephan issue new “editions” of this fine book of photography five years and ten years later, he would aspire indeed to present a brighter picture both of the coastline and of the scenery facing it.

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ARAB ENVIRONMENT IN 10 YEARS crowns a decade of the series of annual reports produced by the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED) on the state of Arab environment. It tracks and analyzes changes focusing on policies and governance, including level of response and engagement in international environmental treaties. It also highlights developments in six selected priority areas, namely water, energy, air, food, green economy and environmental scientific research.
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