June 06, 2012 01:18 AM
By Stephen Dockery

BEIRUT: Activists, government officials and business leaders drew attention to threatening local and global environmental problems caused by urban development Tuesday on World Environment Day, which saw the start of conferences on sustainability and green businesses.

Several days of exhibitions and conferences kicked off at the BIEL Center in Beirut focusing on environmental friendly business practices and energy conservation in the country and region. The conferences drew participants from around 20 countries to discuss issues such as efficient power generation, waste water management, and eco-friendly buildings.

Lebanon is confronting a broad range of serious environmental and natural resource problems. The country faces a looming water shortage, its roads are polluted with deadly levels of micro-particles, and its waterways and coastlines are littered with garbage and full of toxic pollutants.

Many of the country’s myriad environmental problems were caused by conflicts in the unsettled region. They include civil war era dumps of toxic chemicals and Israeli-caused oil spills along the coastline. A large and dedicated environmental NGO sector works to stem the pollution effects but their ability to meaningfully mitigate the problems is uncertain as problems mount.

The Energy and Water Ministry has recently adopted a national water management strategy to help rein in the country’s wasteful water industry. The strategy includes plans to install over 1 million water meters to charge for water by consumption rather than at a fixed rate.

President Michel Sleiman discussed pressing environmental issues with Environment Minister Nazem al-Khoury and a delegation from the Green Party.

The country is approaching the first day of summer at the end of the month, meaning it’s also nearing its annual forest fire season which can cause serious environmental damage, burning swaths of forests and displacing hundreds.

Residents also burn large amounts of waste every year, a practice that has a negative impact on the country’s forests and air and can spark forest fires.

“The forest fire season has just started, and we would like to remind people of sound and practical habits that help preserve our forest which is shrinking by the year,” said Karine Zoghby from the Association for Forests, Development & Conservation.

The organization says burning waste destroys thousands of acres of forest every year. Most of the burning is illegal since burning waste is prohibited by law from June to October, which the organization points out in its latest awareness ad.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon peacekeeping force marked Environment Day Tuesday by beginning to use a new solar energy system and touring its natural waste treatment facility cleaning the beach near its Naqoura headquarters.

Soumar Dakdouk, of the environmental group IndyAct in Beirut said while the country is confronting a broad range of problems the top issues that to be addressed are litter, air pollution from transportation, natural resource depletion and untreated sewage.

Many of the problems can be attributed to urban sprawl, Dakdouk said.

In addition to a very high rate of private car use that creates pollution and traffic, Dakdouk says a general failure to preserve environmental spaces as the country grows is taking its toll.

“We are losing natural resources to build ugly cement buildings,” she said.

Dakdouk said that people interested in stopping environmental destruction shouldn’t lose sight of climate change, which is the overarching environmental threat to people’s way of life.

“The thing with all the environmental problems is that the issues are linked,” Dakdouk said. “These problems are linked [to] climate change.”

Unless addressed by every country in the world the impacts on the future will be dire, Dakdouk said.

“No future generation will be able to sustain life like we do right now.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 06, 2012, on page 4.

Read more: http://www.dailystar.com.lb/News/Local-News/2012/Jun-06/175865-lebanon-faces-environment-problems-due-to-development.ashx#ixzz1wyYqoRVr
(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News :: http://www.dailystar.com.lb)