Lebanese defend the last public beaches of encroachment

Lebanon News
2023-07-20 | 05:23
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Lebanese defend the last public beaches of encroachment
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5min
Lebanese defend the last public beaches of encroachment

In a coastal town north of Beirut, environmental activists and residents are defending one of the last public beaches in the area, open to citizens but now threatened by a construction project that may also encroach on a cave frequented by monk seals, one of the most endangered mammals in the Mediterranean.

In Lebanon, where its western borders stretch along the Mediterranean Sea for 220 kilometers, the Lebanese people have access to less than 80% of the coastline due to encroachments on public properties, which is one facet of corruption in the country. The authorities are unable to remove resorts that have emerged during or after the years of the civil war (1975-1990) on public properties or impose fines on them.

In the town of Amchit, residents have raised their voices to prevent the construction of a villa near the beach, even though it holds a permit from the authorities.

Local activist Fadi Sami Abi Younes tells Agence France-Presse, "This construction should not exist here in this sensitive environmental area, where there is a natural cave that shelters the endangered monk seal."

The architect, along with other residents, advocates for transforming the "Monk Seal Cave," as they call it, into a natural reserve, stating that "the monk seal chose the Amchit area because of its environment and its waters."

Abi Younes is among the few lucky residents who have had the chance to see and photograph the monk seal, classified as a critically endangered species by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, inside the cave with its turquoise-colored waters. These mammals have abandoned the crowded beaches for breeding and sought refuge in caves.

According to the NGO Association for Forests, Development, and Conservation in Lebanon, which launched a campaign advocating for the cave, it is at risk of collapsing if construction work resumes.

Exceptions have been made for years due to the chaos and absence of state authority during the civil war, leaving the Lebanese deprived of public beaches, clean and equipped public pools. Private resorts and pools impose entrance fees that can exceed thirty dollars in a country where the minimum wage does not even reach one hundred dollars.

The encroachments on public maritime properties, most of which occurred during the war years, are estimated to be over 1,100 violations, the majority of which lack proper permits, according to Mohammad Ayoub, the head of Nahnoo, an advocacy organization for public spaces in Lebanon.

As for the remaining open space available to the people, Ayoub states that most of it is polluted due to sewage water flowing into the sea.

About seven kilometers to the north, construction work continues on two tourist projects in the town of Tannourine, despite an official decision to halt the construction in June.

History professor and activist Riad Nakhal tells AFP, "The work is ongoing secretly. Look at these atrocities," pointing to a concrete wall of a swimming pool under construction.

Activist Clara Khoury of the Nahnoo organization accuses the authorities of turning a blind eye to the construction work.

On a nearby beach, she points to an under-construction villa that obstructs access to the sea and laments, "Unfortunately, in Lebanon, when people have influence, they are granted exceptions, and their violations are legalized."

Although violations and encroachments are not new, according to Ayoub, several movements organized by residents and activists occasionally shed more light on their heinousness and raise awareness about the importance of public spaces and their preservation.

In the town of Kfar Aabida in northern Lebanon, residents and activists organized a protest movement weeks ago that led to the demolition of an illegal chalet on the public beach, which they considered a "small victory."

Tony Nassif, one of the local residents who participated in the movement, recounts, "When we learned that the owner intended to expand the chalet and turn the beach into a private one, we launched a campaign demanding its demolition."

Last month, a movement involving several NGOs, including Nahnoo, led to the cessation of landfill work near the beach in the Naqoura area in southern Lebanon, which is among the few areas where beaches have remained relatively free from encroachments.

After enjoying a public beach for eight years, Karl Matrabyan (32 years old) found himself forced to search for a new beach when it transformed into a private space.

While basking in the sun on the beach of Kfarabida, he tells AFP, "Anywhere in the world, people can access beaches for free."

He asks, "Why do they prevent people from doing that in Lebanon?"
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
AFP

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