Lebanon Essay

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For much of the last quarter of the 20th century, the Lebanese Republic was involved in a debilitating civil war that drained the country of much-needed resources and destroyed the existing infrastructure. In 1991, the Ta’if Accord paved the way for reconciling divisions between the diverse religious populations and the government, leading to the institution of political and economic reforms. Both Israel and Syria established a military presence in Lebanon to assist in maintaining the tenuous peace. Israel’s forces withdrew in 2000; and, bowing to pressure, Syria withdrew its remaining forces in 2004. However, in 2006 renewed hostilities and an Israeli invasion throughout the southern part of the country meant a revival of violence with serious implications for environmental conditions throughout the country.

With a per capita income of $5,100, Lebanon ranks 130th of 232 nations in world income. Roughly one million of the workforce of 2.6 million is non-Lebanese. Poverty is pervasive, and unemployment is high at 18 percent. The entire population of Lebanon has access to safe drinking water, and only 2 percent lack access to improved sanitation. The United Nations Development Programme Human Development Reports rank Lebanon 81st in the world on overall quality-of-life issues.

Bordering on the Mediterranean Sea, Lebanon has a coastline of 140 miles (225 kilometers). The Mediterranean climate produces mild to cool, wet winters and hot, dry summers. Heavy snows are frequent during winter months in the mountains.

Much of Lebanon is composed of a narrow coastal plain, with the Bekaa Valley marking the division between the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon Mountains. Sandstorms are common.

Natural resources include limestone, iron ore, salt, and arable land (16.62 percent). Lebanon has a surplus of water unlike most of her neighbors who suffer from severe shortages of freshwater. This is partially due to the presence of the Nahr el Litani, which is the only major river in the Near East that is contained in a single country.

Environmental Issues

Environmentally, Lebanon is experiencing extensive deforestation, soil erosion, and desertification. In a 2006 study, scientists at Yale University ranked Lebanon 36th of 132 countries on environmental performance, well above the relevant income and geographic groups. Lebanon received the lowest rankings in the categories of biodiversity and habitat and air quality.

Roughly 88 percent of the population of Lebanon is urbanized, and pollution is particularly severe in Beirut from carbon dioxide emissions and the burning of industrial wastes. Between 1980 and 2002, carbon dioxide emissions in per capita metric tons climbed from 2.3 to 4.7, with the country producing 0.1 percent of the world’s total. Raw sewage and oil spills have contaminated the coastal waters. Desertification in Lebanon is a by-product of poverty and climate, and responsible development is seen as the key to checking further ecological damage.

Government Response

The long years of civil war led to environmental issues being placed on the back burner in Lebanon, but in the last decade or so, the government has begun to deal with the problems of waste management and pollution. The Ministry of Environment heads up six departments that together have been charged with promoting sustainable development and protection of natural resources. The government has launched education programs at all levels to teach the people about protecting their environment. Spurred partly by the active participation of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), funding for environmental research has increased significantly. Although only 3.5 percent of Lebanon’s land area is forested, 0.5 percent of the land has been brought under national protection with the establishment of seven natural reserves. Of 57 endemic mammal species, five are threatened with extinction, and seven of 116 endemic bird species are endangered.

Lebanon participates in the following international agreements: Biodiversity, Climate Change, Desertification, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution, and Wetlands. The Lebanese government has signed but not ratified agreements on Environmental Modification and Marine Life Conservation.

It is too soon to determine the environmental implications of the renewed violence in Lebanon, but early indications suggest much of it will be serious and potentially irreparable. Following Israeli air strikes in July 2006, for example, the Jiyeh power plant near Beirut leaked some 15,000 tons of oil into the Mediterranean Sea, with critical implications for marine life. Forest fires, soil erosion, burning oil, and toxic waste are all ongoing parts of the conflict, while overall instability further contributes to an environmental crisis in the region.


  1. Timothy Doyle, Environmental Movements in Minority and Majority Worlds: A Global Perspective (Rutgers University Press, 2005);
  2. Kevin Hillstrom and Laurie Collier Hillstrom, Africa and the Middle East: A Continental Overview of Environmental Issues (ABC-CLIO, 2003).

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