Lebanon – Mlikh residents stage protest against opening of new quarry

(The Daily Star, September 6 2010)

Mleekh locals organized a protest over the weekend condemning the opening of a new rock quarry in the natural reserve of Jabal al-Rihan and urging officials to protect the region’s environment.

Residents of the south Lebanon village of Mleekh at the demonstration demanded the closure of a new rock and sand quarry, which opened in the nature reserve of Jabal al-Rihan a few months earlier, and urged the Interior Ministry and the Environment Ministry to stop handing out permits to quarries in protected lands.

For years Jabal al-Rihan has been ravaged by quarries, the most recent of which opened a few months ago at the east entrance of Mleekh, in the neighboring village of Kfarhouna. It has already destroyed a region known as Wadi al-Aasal, Arabic for the valley of honey, according to the locals.

“We ask the Kfarhouna municipality not to renew the quarry’s permit and not give out any more permits because our environment and our homes are being threatened,” complained Mleekh municipal council member Hussein Abdullah.

Nonetheless, Kfarhouna Mayor George Ayyoub claimed the new quarry was located on private property belonging to the Shiite Endowment and its profits were being used for charitable purposes.

“The quarry is legally authorized … The municipality did not interfere in handing out the permit, which came directly from the Interior Ministry … If there are any environmental objections they should be made to the Environment Ministry,” he said, noting that the land in question was once a subject of dispute between Christian and Shiite parties in the region.

The owner of the newly founded quarry obtained his permit from the Interior Ministry and demonstrators demanded that no additional licenses be given, calling the authorization of such quarries “a criminal act.”

“A shepherd gets a fine for letting his herd graze in the mountains. How can they fight a flock of animals but give out permits to destroy the environment?” asked local Sleiman al-Muqadam, noting that the new quarry was not the only one causing damage in the region and that some companies have been excavating the mountain for over 35 years.

Protester Zouhour Barakat agreed with Muqadam, saying “Our nature is fragile and we’re trying to preserve its beauty so that we can wake up to the sounds of birds rather than falling rocks.”

Nonetheless, the demonstrators confirmed that their movement was not aimed at individuals and quarry owners but was rather a peaceful attempt to stop “the disfiguration of nature.”

“Our movement is still calm. However, if quarries expand we will amplify our actions … The matter will be discussed at the municipal council and steps will be taken in accordance with the law,” warned Najib Abu Zeid, a member of the municipality council.
The south Lebanon village of Mleekh is well known for its wealth green forests as well as its rock formations, and its forestlands had previously sustained damage during Israeli aggressions on the region.

Head of the Lebanese Gathering to Protect the Environment, Mohammad Faqih, said the area had great environmental importance and its natural riches should be protected and used for developing ecotourism. “All of Jabal al-Rihan is a nature reserve and a biosphere,” he confirmed.

Faqih added that the mountain was home to numerous species of wildlife, held underground water sources and was characterized by three distinct climates. “Stopping quarries will be beneficial for the whole region,” he said.