Lebanon’s Problems Rooted in Neglected Infrastructure
The British government’s classification of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization will come into effect on March 1st pending approval by the British parliament. The move places the group’s political members in the same category as Hezbollah’s military wing, which Home Secretary Sajid Javid claims can no longer be distinguished from the main organization of Hezbollah itself. Javid said in a statement that “Hezbollah is continuing in its attempts to destabilize the fragile situation in the Middle East,” but that the proscription of Hezbollah will not affect the British government’s commitment to Lebanon.
In a recent Foreign Policy article, however, author Sune Haugbolle argues that rather than focusing on sectarian tensions and punishing Hezbollah, foreign governments should invest in Lebanon’s infrastructure to improve the economy and mitigate ecological issues. The refugee crisis has highlighted, according to Haugbolle, Lebanon’s “structural challenges to stability and security,” including pollution, poor waste management systems, and groundwater contamination.
There are efforts within Lebanon to address ecological concerns, such as company Hawa Akkar’s efforts to create cheap, clean energy from wind turbines. After implementing Hawa Akkar’s plans, Lebanon will source 12% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020, which will help reduce air pollution and improve the country’s budget deficit. Lebanese athlete Caroline Raphael is also bringing awareness to pollution and waste in the Mediterranean and Lebanon’s rivers, and to the physical destruction of the landscape through development projects. She opened Surf Shack Lebanon, through which she gives tours of the coast on stand-up paddleboards, and she recently announced her intention to break a Guinness World Record by traveling the length of Lebanon’s coast on a stand-up paddleboard on April 27th.
Although there are many instances of positive efforts to reduce pollution, aspects of state-led efforts to tackle water pollution have taken a more violent route. This past weekend, as part of the Litani River Authority’s (LRA) anti-pollution campaign, thirteen tents in an informal refugee settlement in southern Lebanon’s Zahrani were bulldozed. Sami Alawieh, the LRA’s general director, claimed that “sewage from the camp was polluting the surrounding area...I am sure that our actions are in the interests of the environment.” The tents were home to around 180 Syrian refugees, some of whom were sent to other refugee camps, but others told the Daily Star news agency that they have been unable to find alternative shelter even though Alawieh indicated that the LRA would work to find other accommodations.
Rather than targeting political concerns such as Hezbollah, or bolstering the military, foreign governments such as the U.K. and U.S. should provide more aid to the Lebanese government to improve infrastructure, which can work in tandem with environmental activists. Furthermore, the British government’s aid, which is mostly targeted at the Syrian refugee crisis in Lebanon, should specifically give refugees access to toilet infrastructure and sanitary resources to avoid government-sanctioned destruction of informal settlements.