Sparks of a different nature

Spark 1: For the second time in a month, a host of forest fires is raging in both the south, the Chouf and the north of the country. Just like last time, they were started at over a hundred different locations simultaneously, and yes they obviously were started intentionally: just like a few weeks ago, there is no obvious natural reason (like temperature – the summer heat’s long gone). This time though there have been witness reports from the residents of Ain al-Sammak, a small town in Dhour al-Soueir, who ‘said they saw a group of armed individuals set fire to the mountainous region. They said the group later opened fire at the townspeople who tried to put out the fire.’ (Daily Star) Motives could be land clearance for construction projects by ruthless real estate developers (which is often the cause of Greek forest fires, for example) or, as was reported last time, rather unconvincingly I think, the creation of charcoal as a heating fuel for the winter by the poor who can’t afford regular fuel. But this being Lebanon, it could of course have some tactical military purpose, such as the creation of clear lines of fire. Whatever the reason, the fires have caused some serious environmental damage to a country already deforestating at a dramatic rate.

Another environmental disaster in this country is the enormous mountain of toxic waste on the seaside at Saida/Sidon. Local children suffer an extremely high rate of asthma, and regularly (in fact this happened again a few days ago) serious portions of the odious mountain just drop into the sea, polluting the local seabed and floating off as far as the shores of Greece. The mountain has been there for many years and efforts by environmental groups and the local council to raise a barrier to protect the sea or to move it and process it to protect the health of local people, invariably are stopped by the bloated bureaucracy and the corrupted political elite of this country, who won’t approve anything unless they can allocate a lucrative contract to their buddies and reap a share of it. The same rampant corruption has been hindering efforts to clean the coastline of the gigantic oil spill caused by Israel’s bombing of fuel tanks last summer. Hundreds of bags full of collected oily sand are have been lying on the beaches for months, slowly leaking out again and waiting for the first winter storms to be swept into the se.

Spark 2: There are sparks that most Lebanese would like to see more often though, and these are of the electrical nature. Two fuel tankers have been lying close to Lebanon’s power stations for weeks, waiting for payment to unload into the tanks of the power stations. Electricité du Liban reportedly makes a $3 million loss a day, covered habitually by letters of credit issued by the government every few months, but just as habitually only after a long sparring match between the Ministry of Energy and Water and the Ministry of Finance. Al-Akhbar yesterday reported that there was fuel in the tanks for only four more days, and today one tanker has finally moored and started to unload its cargo. EDL, by the way, is a private company. The reasons cited for this huge daily loss are many parts of the country not paying electricity bills or illegally tapping electricity (the accusations are usually directed at Hezbollah-controlled areas, Palestinian refugee camps and villages on the Syrian border, which is not clearly demarcated), war damage (both from the Israeli summer war and from rockets out of Nahr al-Bared hitting the Beddawi plant recently) as well as underfunding by EDL resulting in antiquated, inefficient and poorly maintained installations. EDL also likes to remind everyone frequently that although fuel has tripled in price in the last 12 years, electricity rates have not gone up in the same period. In fact, even when the stations are working at full capacity, they cannot produce the consumption level required (they are about 400 megawatts short). Beirut is currently experiencing daily power cuts of 3 hours on average, while there are areas in Mount Lebanon and in the south where the power cuts last anything from 8 to 18(!) hours a day. Meanwhile, Lebanese banks have reported a record profit increase, and every local politician is living in a gigantic fortified luxurious palace (or several). With its own electricity generators, of course.

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