Lebanon’s Top 5 Environmental Risks

Whilst Lebanon has a thriving eco scene (compared to the rest of the Middle East), the environmental risks the country faces are still significant. A recent report by the UN humanitarian news agency IRIN published the top five risks  the country faces.  Here they are in no particular order:

5. War

During the July War of 2006 with Israel , the largest environmental catastrophe was the bombing of Jiyeh power station which caused 15,000 tons of oil to seep into the ocean and affecting 150km of the Lebanese coastline.

4.  WaterAlthough Lebanon is the least water scarce country in the Middle East [with an annual average rainfall exceeding 800 million cubic metres], due to water shortages during the dry season the average household in some areas receives under 50 litres per day, which WHO says is the minimum to ensure a healthy environment.
Also according to experts, the number of rainy days has fallen from 80-90 a year on average 20 years ago to 70. The intensity of the rainfall has correspondingly gone up, meaning less of it seeps into the soil, and more of it runs along the ground, causing soil erosion, landslides, flash floods and ultimately desertification.

3. Climate Change

According to the 2009 report Rising Temperatures, Rising Tensions by the International Institute for Sustainable Development, climate-dependent sectors of the economy in Lebanon such as agriculture and tourism could be affected.  Climate change could also close off previously viable economic activities such as the export of water intensive crops.

2. Air Pollution

Scientists are warning that pollutants in Beirut’s air have reached concentration levels so high as to become toxic for human health.

Long-term exposure at levels of concentration exceeding 40 micrograms per square metre, according to World Health Organization (WHO) standards, may decrease lung function and increase the risk of respiratory symptoms in humans. According to WHO, levels should be below 20 micrograms per cubic metre to prevent ill-health.

While the Mediterranean climate and stagnant air may “trap” toxic gases, the report suggests that 52 percent of the air pollution is from vehicles. Residents of Beirut on average own 2.6 cars

1. The Mediterranean

With 60 percent of Lebanon’s economic activity taking place in a narrow coastal strip along the Mediterranean, it could be susceptible to flooding and erosion as sea levels are predicted to rise. Habitat destruction is putting Lebanon’s fishing industry, which accounts for around 6,500 jobs, at risk of collapse if part of Lebanese waters are not designated protected zones in the near future, according to a new Greenpeace report A Network of Marine Reserves In The Coastal Waters of Lebanon.

With the prospect of offshore oil and gas exploration (approved by the Lebanese parliament in a new law), Greenpeace also warns that “Lebanese coastal waters are also at high risk of accidental spills if exploitation of underwater marine petroleum oil reserves develops in Lebanon.”

Report via IRIN. Image of abandoned Palace in Beirut via Petteri Sulonen on Flickr.

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