And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair. - Khalil Gibran
From the ancient cedars of Shouf to the blue honey of the Mediterranean, traditional rural villages to the sprawling metropolis of Beirut, and the majesty of Mount Lebanon to the luscious Beqaa Valley, Lebanon faces enormous environmental challenges. These problems - which range from desertification and water shortages to threats to marine life and to the towering cedars themselves - transcend ethnicity and creed, wealth and poverty, gender and age. They are common to all and can be ignored by none. Fortunately, Lebanon is taking notice.
With a plethora of civil society groups recently formed to protect Lebanon's slice of the planet, Lebanon has perhaps the most active environmental movement in the Middle East and can lead the way in promoting green policies throughout the region. Not only are international groups like Greenpeace and GAIA active in the country, but grassroots Lebanese organizations like Beeatoona, Green Line, Development for People and Nature Association, and IndyACT have begun to have an impact on dialogue about the environment in Lebanon.
But there is much work to do, and the government should work in cooperation with CSOs and municipalities so that all of Lebanon can participate in the process. The government has already developed several national plans to combat environmental degradation in Lebanon. The National Reforestation Plan (2001), National Biodiversity Strategy and Action Plan (1998), and National Action Program to Combat Desertification (2003) have all been drafted and implemented to some degree. The Ministry of Environment also hosted a program with the University of Balamand entitled Strengthening Environmental Legislation Development and Application System (SELDAS).
The SELDAS program ran from March 2003 to September 2005, which culminated with the publication of a book (available in Arabic from the Ministry’s website.) The purpose of the program was to build institutional capacities to develop and apply environmental laws and to promote environmental awareness. The project developed a methodology for analyzing environmental legislation and was designed to reform the process of drafting environmental laws. Part of the project included seminars in which civil society organizations and municipalities were invited to give feedback to the Ministry.
The extent to which these plans will be adhered or the impact of the SELDAS program on environmental legislation reform remain to be seen. It is up to civil society organizations across Lebanon to continue to push for reform and to follow up on existing plans and programs. With organizations such as those listed above, Lebanon has an excellent chance to combat environmental degradation and promote a sustainable future for all.