Environmentalists say dam construction threatens to ruin ecosystem of valley that is major tourist destination.

By Natasha Ghoneim

There was a moment as our car crested the mountain, when everyone almost in unison said either “Wow” or “That’s gorgeous”.

The clouds were draped like a baby’s blanket over the seemingly endless ridges of cedar trees. Our car was the only one on the gravel road as it began snaking down to the bottom, where a river and springs have refreshed and enchanted people for centuries. It was easy to see how the Adonis Valley in Mount Lebanon got its name.

In Greek mythology, the rare beauty of Adonis ensnared the heart of Aphrodite, the goddess of love. The valley continues to inspire feverish devotion among its admirers, which explains the battle to halt the Jannah Dam. Jannah means paradise in Arabic. Opponents of the dam find that ironic.

“For tourism, it’s really important. For biodiversity, it’s really important and you are destroying it for nothing,” says Paul Abi Rached, of the Lebanon Eco Movement.

Lebanon has a shortage of water. The government says its current supply is 25 percent less than what the country needs. That is due to numerous factors, including an influx of refugees and an expansion of the agriculture sector.

Construction of the dam began in 2012. But even as 55,000 trees are cut and the bulldozers clear land, the battle to stop the project is as intense as ever. The hope is that the dam will produce enough water and electricity to supply Beirut and the city of Byblos.

Even within the government, there is disagreement about the project. Ziad Zakhour, from the the Ministry of Energy and Water, says: “Dams are not considered, as a general principle, the best solution. But since the underground water is totally abused now, we have to use our surface water.”
The government says its current water supply is 25 percent less than what the country needs [File]

Zakhour says that the country’s 77,000 wells, many of which are illegal, have pumped too much water for too long, without ample time to be replenished. He says: “I believe that this project will have a very positive impact at the country level.”

Environmentalists are concerned that the dam will alter the pristine landscape. Already, the naked mountain faces where the trees have been razed are a stark contrast to the lush cedar trees that seem to soar to the clouds. Opponents say studies show the soil in the area is not ideal as it will absorb the water.

They warn that the Jannah Dam could also cause a catastrophe because it is being built on top of two faultlines. The Ministry of Energy and Water told us that their studies minimised those concerns. As for the tree removal, for every tree removed, the government promised that three more will be planted.

But people who have grown up with the majestic Adonis Valley in their backyard are not convinced. The day we visited, we watched a resident named Khalid Zouein almost come to blows with an employee of the dam contractor.

“They bring someone from the government to provoke us on our land, in our village, where we’re born. Now, they’re destroying it for the sake of profiting from it,” says Zouein.

The Adonis Valley represented death and resurrection in Greek mythology, the life cycle in nature.

Opponents of the Jannah Dam believe it will kill the ecosystem. Even though it is well on its way to completion in 2020, opponents say that they will continue to fight to preserve this beloved place.