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Philippe Poullaouec-Gonidec

Chapitre 3. Carrières en périphérie de villes: enjeux et projets de paysage

Quarries and Worries or Cut and Fill. The Case of Lebanon

Julie Weltzien

Texte intégral

  • 1 The Daily Star, Beirut, Lebanon, January 3rd, 2006.

Beirut: with political assassinations and governmental instability posing a constant threat the past year, environmental issues ranked very low on Lebanon’s list of concerns in 2005.
Virtually nothing has been done to solve the two main environmental file: waste management and quarries,…
1

Quarrying activities in Lebanon

1Despite the development of a legal framework, environmental issues have ranked very low. Consequently rehabilitation of quarries is not taking place; on the contrary, the speed of illegal quarrying is increasing.

  • 2 Wally, C.D., The Geology of Lebanon, almashriq & American University of Lebanon http://almashriq.hi (...)

2Lebanon’s mountainous character (two mountain ranges rising up to 3000m) is unique in the region with heavy rainfalls and snow in the winter. Despite a very favorable climate, but due to the steep river valleys that demand very hard work, wealth deriving from agriculture has not proven easily. As natural ports are plentiful and because of its geographical location, many Lebanese have gone into commerce and many others have migrated. With the lack of mineral wealth and a history of deforestation, water and limestone are the main natural resources2. Archeological, cultural and resources are of course plentiful, to which last not least stunning scenery needs to be added. (picture 1)

  • 3 The per capita (kg/person) consumption of cement in 1996 was 1,650, compared to Egypt with 320 kg a (...)
  • 4 Ministry of Environment, Lebanon : Lebanon State of the Environment Report, 2001 and Ministry of Fi (...)

3Since 1975, with the beginning of the civil war that lasted until the 1990’s, Lebanon has undergone a history of destruction and, at the same time, of construction. Due to reconstruction efforts and demographic shifts caused by war, the cement production has drastically increased and Lebanon has, by far, the highest per capita consumption of the latter in the region3. The cement production is one of the indicators frequently used to show the level of economic activity. In the case of Lebanon the delivery of cement has nearly doubled form the first quarter of 2005 (429,666 tons) to the first quarter of 2006 (715,838 tons).4

  • 5 Abou Haidar, Fareed, Illegal Rock Quarries, almashriq, LebEnv.#57Lebanon, 1998 http://almashriq.hio (...)

4Meanwhile, quarrying practices are severely threatening Lebanon’s second natural resource: namely the water. Through alteration or destruction of underground geological formations (caves and abysses) the natural hydrogeology at many places is affected, which frequently results into drying ups of springs. At the same time, deforestation is increasing and is now turning what was used to be Pine Forest into sand quarries. In some areas the scenery is heavily and irreparably disturbed: “The government recently banned all rock quarries. What I saw on the ground was extremely disappointing. Many rock quarries continue to operate in the most scenic areas of the country.”5

  • 6 decree #8803 Ministry of Environment, Lebanon 2002 (Translation : Gamar Markarian)

5A study conducted by the Lebanese army in 2003 has revealed the existence of 1200 quarries in Lebanon: 1125 are illegal, 67 are operating under a short term grace-period, and 8 actually have a permit. Seventy-five percent of the quarries are considered small, twenty-five percent are considered large and none of them follow environmental guidelines. Rehabilitation, although demanded by decree6, is not taking place.

  • 7 Interview with Mounir Bou Ghanem at AFDC, Oct. 2006

6Asked why rehabilitation processes are not applied and why illegal quarrying is still going on, Mounir Bou Ghanem from the Association of Forest Development and Conservation (AFDC)7 explained that this is due to a failure of the system on different levels: 1) quarrying is a very profitable business and is therefore hard to control, particularly in a country that faces huge economical difficulties; 2) if a quarry should be rehabilitated, first step is that it needs to be acknowledged as legal. Then, due to administrative, geographical, and political problems, there is neither mechanism to control the quarrying activities nor to collect penalties. The Ministry of Environment does not have the capacities for supervision and the Internal Security Force, whom would be responsible, have no technical training and are, due to the general political chaos, used otherwise. As another result of the chaos and the complicated legal process, it has proven easier for the investor to be illegal than to be legal. Even if detected, it is frequently more profitable for the owner of the site to pay the penalty than to stop the quarry.

7The only rehabilitation effort found during the study was initiated on a private basis and executed by the AFDC. However, the intervention was limited to pine tree planting in a former sand quarry, not having the resources to address the landform or any particular use of the site. It seems very hard to reestablish a pine forest on those sites, as the growth of the trees proves to be very slow. (picture 2)

8The major problem of the quarrying practices is the speed of extraction of material. Quarrying being such a profitable business and the next political crisis with unknown outcomes luring behind the corner, long term planning has little value, but the short term profit, meaning the maximum extraction of material in the shortest period of time, is what is aimed for. And, because of their illegal activities, the quarry owners see the threat of their quarry being closed and thus, want to gain as much as possible as long as they can. At the same time, truck drivers, who are paid per truck load, can double or triple their salaries by increasing the number of trips and therefore, all of them have added an illegal extension to their vehicles to carry more material. In addition, they drive as frequently and as fast as they can. The speeding and the load of the trucks cause numerous lethal accidents and heavy road damages.

  • 8 ibid

9The speed of quarrying favors extraction methods are environmentally very unfriendly such as horizontal quarrying with explosives which causes very steep and un-restorable terraces. At times those terraces go up to 100m of height and destroy valuable aquifers. Vertical quarrying with 3m high terraces, as recommended by international guidelines, would be more in line with the topography and other natural conditions of the place and also easier to rehabilitate.8

Cut and Fill

  • 9 ibid
  • 10 Interview with Hratch Markarisn, Architect, Dbaye, Lebanon, Oct. 2006
    All pictures are taken by the
    (...)

10It can be taken for granted that the situation is on its way of deterioration since the war between Israel and Hezbollah in the summer of 2006. The paradox of Lebanon’s seashore being filled up with the debris of the destructions, while the mountains are near to limitlessly exploited, is becoming more and more apparent. Already, the rubble of the civil war was used to create huge landfill areas on the shore of Beirut and has in stretches completely altered the coastline. At the same time the war and its aftermath has fueled construction, and, consequently, quarrying activities. With the huge amount of buildings destroyed in 2006, this tendency will not shrink. Just in the southern suburbs of Beirut, approximately two hundred eight-storey buildings have been destroyed, the public buildings, bridges, roads not counted.9 This amounts to about 800.000 tons of rubble to be deposited.10 Last year’s debris is creating new landscapes, for this time at the southern seashore of Beirut, next to the International Airport. Truck after truck brings there loads, no sign of protection for the groundwater or the sea is detectable. (picture 3)

11At the same time, a trip in January 2007 to the hills, south of the Bekaa plains, a less accessible area, speaks of the effect of the reconstruction on the mountains. The road is heavily destroyed and at times, hard to use even with a Jeep. Quarry after quarry defines the landscape; gravel and sand mounds line the road and are testimonies of hectic and quick excavation (picture 4). It is hard to imagine this land scape healed. Reusing the rubble for construction purposes is not practiced, apparently, partly due to the un-clarified ownership of the material and the missing know-how. At the same time, it is, once again the speed of action that determines the quality of the activity - people need homes quickly and environmental problems are ranking high on the list of concerns.

12In 2005, initiative has been founded within the Ministry of Environment with support from the European Union to address the problem. The two-year project ABQUAR (Alleviating Barriers to Quarries Rehabilitation), working on data collection and the legal framework is definitely a very laudable and extremely important mission. Yet, a certain level of stability, as well as political will and support is needed in order to tackle the problem on a long term basis and to end the fatal spiral of cut and fill of the Lebanese landscape.

PICTURE 3 Dump airport

PICTURE 4 Bekaa-jezzine

Notes

1 The Daily Star, Beirut, Lebanon, January 3rd, 2006.

2 Wally, C.D., The Geology of Lebanon, almashriq & American University of Lebanon http://almashriq.hiof.no/ddc/projects/geology/geology-of-lebanon/

3 The per capita (kg/person) consumption of cement in 1996 was 1,650, compared to Egypt with 320 kg and Cyprus with 1330 kg. Ministry of Environment, Lebanon : Lebanon State of the Environment Report, 2001

4 Ministry of Environment, Lebanon : Lebanon State of the Environment Report, 2001 and Ministry of Finance, Lebanon : Lebanon State of the Economy Report, 2006

5 Abou Haidar, Fareed, Illegal Rock Quarries, almashriq, LebEnv.#57Lebanon, 1998 http://almashriq.hiof.no/leba-non/300/360/363/363.7/fareed/lebenv57.html

6 decree #8803 Ministry of Environment, Lebanon 2002 (Translation : Gamar Markarian)

7 Interview with Mounir Bou Ghanem at AFDC, Oct. 2006

8 ibid

9 ibid

10 Interview with Hratch Markarisn, Architect, Dbaye, Lebanon, Oct. 2006
All pictures are taken by the author.

Table des illustrations

URL http://books.openedition.org/pum/docannexe/image/14028/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 636k
Légende PICTURE 3 Dump airport
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Fichier image/jpeg, 108k
Légende PICTURE 4 Bekaa-jezzine
URL http://books.openedition.org/pum/docannexe/image/14028/img-3.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 104k

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