Pollution in Lebanon is rife and obvious, from its sea to it rivers and quarries, and this despite the dozens of organizations, NGOs, and committees in the country that purport to protect the environment for current and future generations of Lebanese.

Over the years these entities have failed to make any significant impact on the wellbeing of the environment. They remain silent until a catastrophe strikes, and then the country is suddenly inundated with statements, condemnations, vows and plans, but nothing on the ground.

The contamination this week that turned Beirut’s river red is just the latest example. Already, the Litani River in the south is contaminated to such a degree that the vegetables that grow around it are liable to cause all kinds of diseases because of the chemicals deposited in the river by farmers, olive tree mills and factories.

The Bekaa’s Qaraoun Lake is another disaster, with animal carcasses mysteriously appearing in its environs.

Meanwhile, the unregulated quarries across Lebanon eat into the country’s natural resources.

In the poorer areas, where the state is absent, ancient trees are chopped down in order to sustain people.

These issues flare up in the public conscience at certain times, only to die down again. A big noise is made, probes are promised but no action is ever taken.

In the 1960s, 33 percent of the country was green. That figure is now less than 12 percent. If these levels of environmental destruction continue, before long the country will be turned to desert.

Yet the Environment Ministry is treated as a luxury, with a budget barely enough to sustain the wages of the few who work there, and some insignificant expenses.

The ministry’s ability to protect the environment, to educate people and to crack down on those who do not abide by its laws, is therefore minimal.

Every minister who tries – and some have put sincere effort into their work – has found that this environmental destruction is protected by parties and politicians.

Therefore any effort to curb environmental violations is met with opposition from whichever politician or party holds a vested interest.

Statements, investigations and promises to prosecute are merely an exercise in semantics. The Lebanese have learned that measures are cosmetic, having never seen the conclusion of an investigation, nor the conviction, let alone the public naming of a perpetrator.

This country needs a state of environmental emergency, with tough laws so the ministry is treated as one of its vital institutions, with the clout to put an end to the violations of nature and rehabilitate its green spaces.

Otherwise our children will wake up immersed in disease, surrounded by deserts, polluted waters and poisoned food.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 18, 2012, on page 7.

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/Opinion/Editorial/2012/Feb-18/163732-green-conscience.ashx#ixzz1n8wP70TP
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)