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Land and Resources, Environmental Issues

cedars of Lebanon, Lebanese Civil War, Southwest Asia, marine pollution, banking center

Lebanonís environment was seriously damaged during the Lebanese Civil War. During the conflict, habitat was destroyed, environmental regulations were not enforced, and conservation efforts were abandoned. Following the war, most of the Lebanese governmentís efforts were directed at restoring the countryís basic infrastructure. At the end of the 20th century, however, Lebanon increased its commitment to environmental conservation and cleanup.

Before the civil war, Lebanon was an important commercial, industrial, and banking center. This productivity had environmental consequences, including pollution from unrestricted dumping of sewage and industrial wastes. Untreated wastes were discharged into waterways or pumped into deep holes, sometimes contaminating underground aquifers. Toxic solid wastes were deposited in municipal dumps without prior decontamination. Although the Lebanese government is working to implement more environmentally sound waste-disposal methods, many industries continue to pollute waterways and coastal areas.

Gasoline sold in Lebanon is manufactured with high amounts of lead, which contributes to air pollution, especially in urban centers. The countryís electricity-generating plants further pollute the atmosphere by burning fuel oil. In 1998 Lebanon announced a plan to eventually use cleaner-burning natural gas rather than fuel oil to generate electricity.

Urban development and agricultural practices contribute to the destruction of about 7.8 percent (1990-1996) of Lebanonís forests each yearóthe highest rate of deforestation in Southwest Asia. Consequently, soil erosion and desertification have increased.

Lebanonís forests of cedar trees were famed in antiquity, but intensive logging over the centuries has reduced the forests to a fraction of their former size. Hailed in the Bible and other works of ancient literature, the cedars of Lebanon remain a point of national prideóa cedar appears prominently on the national flag. In 1997 Lebanon established the Al-Shouf Cedar Reserve, which occupies 5 percent of the total land area of the country. Although cedar trees cover only a small percentage of the reserve, conservation groups are attempting to increase the cedar population in other areas of the park.

Lebanon has ratified international agreements intended to protect biodiversity and the ozone layer. The country has also signed treaties limiting hazardous waste and marine pollution.

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