Nahr Beirut: An urban river in danger

"Lebanon's current landscape does not resemble its natural aspect. Human actions have demolished it."
by Christy-Belle Geha and Sabine Sabeh

17 January 2020 | 17:44

Source: by Annahar

Image shows Beirut River (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

BEIRUT: Suburban misery belts in Bourj Hammoud and Karantina surround Nahr Beirut since 1964, poverty in that area exacerbated during and after the Civil War. Since then, many have tried to set management plans for the integral use of the river’s water for electricity production.

In order to shed light on the technical and political issues related to the rehabilitation of the river and its relation to its watershed, a conference titled “Nahr Beirut: What is a river in the city? An open sewer, an island of freshness or a link between the city and its hinterland?” took place on January 16 at Beit Beirut museum, Sodeco.

“The need for urban development generated an urban expansion, which provoked a biodiversity imbalance and a violation to the ecosystem's equilibrium and the environment,” said urban organization instructor at the Lebanese University Jawad Farah, PhD.

Farah explained how urban planning in Lebanon is insufficiently specialized to solve local crises. He added that there is a rising river management crisis because rivers are a drinking water source and a place for sewage discharge at the same time.

“Nahr Beirut isn’t dead, and each river has its own history and particularities, which experts should invest in and develop. This river is an economic, cultural, and natural heritage that must be preserved,” said Stéphane Ghiotti, professor of geography at the University of Montpellier.

Ghiotti elaborated on the links between a city and river, while presenting two French examples from the two French cities Lyon and Montpellier in an attempt to offer potential solution plans for the Beiruti river.

“One of the preliminaries for a smart management of Nahr Beirut is voting and adopting laws that ensure that both the environment and the river remain clean and safe for use," he added.

In the conference’s second part, vice president of the Arab Center of Architecture Claudine Abdel Massih, lawyer and former PM Ghassan Moukhaiber, and architect Adib Dada, gathered around and compared satellite images of different areas in Lebanon from 1956 to 2008.

"Lebanon's current landscape does not resemble its natural aspect. Human actions have demolished it,” said Abdel Massih.

Moukheiber blamed the Council for Development and Reconstruction for its random and nonchalant actions in terms of the river’s maintenance.

This lecture was part of a seminar series titled “Ecology, Politics and Urban Planning: Is nature a political actor?” Other lectures are scheduled to take place between January 2020 and December 2020. These are organized by the French Institute of the Near-East (Ifpo) and the Department of Urbanism from the Faculty of Fine Arts and Architecture at the Lebanese University.

The seminar series aim to expose cases of real environmental crises and transmit the minimum knowledge on the subject in order to build long-term solutions. 

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