Friday, June 18, 2010

Oh the wonders of the world!

Once again the Jeita Grotto is up to become one of the 7 Wonders of Nature. You can vote on the Grotto among other natural wonders.

But I have to ask, does Lebanon deserve it?

I can already hear the blood boiling in the minds of some who read that question, but listen to this example: Lebanon is in danger of losing its UNESCO World Heritage status on the Qadisha Valley because of the way Lebanese treat the site. Not only has it become overdeveloped thanks in part to a lack of enforcement of building codes and development laws (and rampant corruption to boot), but garbage from family picnics is strewn across the area, showing an utter lack of respect for the area.

Qadisha is just one example of this. Uncontrolled and unplanned growth has ravished natural and historic sites across the country and has contributed to deforestation, inadequate sanitation and water networks, and the illegal exploitation of quarries and coastline. Even when licenses are secured, companies do not comply with their terms. Violations of building permits is the norm, which has resulted in the eradication of natural resources and the conversion of agricultural and forest land into unplanned built up areas.

These laws should be enforced. A 1999 report by the Ministry of Finance entitled “Programme for Financial Reform” acknowledged the damage inflicted on the country’s natural resources and the potential devastating consequences the country faces if this continues, yet a decade later the government has largely been ineffective in acting upon the findings of this and other reports.

And so I ask again - does Lebanon deserve to have the Jeita Grotto or other natural or historical sites on any kind of international awards list?

Well, yes. But it's going to take a lot of effort and changes in behavior to make sure these great places stay great. It's up to civil society to fight for the rule of law, combat corruption, and to raise public awareness about the consequences of over-development and littering.

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