Petition aims to preserve Qadisha Valley's UN status By Patrick Galey and Wassim Mroueh
(Retrieved from Daily Star on June 23, 2010)
Daily Star staff Wednesday, June 23, 2010
BEIRUT: A petition to preserve the Qadisha Valley’s World Heritage status has been launched in the wake of severe environmental damage to the northern site, it emerged Tuesday.
Almost 6,000 people from across the world have signed the appeal, started by Lebanese television station MTV, asking the government to designate the holy valley, which is on the verge of removal from UNESCO’s list of protected sites, as a natural reserve.
Signatories include President Michel Sleiman, Culture Minister Salim Warde and Tourism Minister Fadi Abboud, An-Nahar reported.
The Daily Star confirmed that UNESCO had fired a warning to the government about the need to preserve Qadisha’s cleanliness or risk declassifying it as a World Heritage site back in May. A UNESCO source warned that the organization would not stand idly by “when you have countries turning these sites into commercial projects and allowing people to violate the sites.”
The valley – one of Lebanon’s principal tourist attractions – was granted World Heritage status in 1998 for containing the “most significant surviving examples” of early Christian monasteries, but is threatened by several environmental dangers, some of which were highlighted by Warde in a letter to concerned ministers.
The violations of World Heritage status at Qadisha include the building of restaurants and other touristic sites, poor sewage treatment and management, waste dumping and the use of cars and All-Terrain Vehicles along the valley floor.
In addition, Warde noted, the valley had seen a recent preponderance of individuals playing loud music and public toilets have been opened next to the Qanoubine Monastery.
It is thought that such natural damage could result in the valley being placed on the World Heritage Center’s “danger” list. Further inaction from Lebanese authorities could leave Qadisha being struck altogether from UNESCO’s books.
As well as imploring Sleiman and Maronite Patriarch Nasrallah Boutros Sfeir – who resides in nearby Bkirki – to take action against further deterioration, Warde also wrote to Environment Minister Mohammad Rahhal, asking him to work “to prevent continuing environmental deterioration … so that the environmental harm will not affect flora and fauna.”
Sawsan Abu Fakherddine, general director of the Association for Forest Development and Conservation, told The Daily Star that while the petition was a welcome development, Lebanon was yet to see any environmental commitment from its government.
“Unless we have serious commitment to stop violations in the valley, we are going to see it being removed from [UNESCO’s] list,” she added. “We need better monitoring on the building that is going on, but the petition won’t make any difference on its own.”
In the wake of UNESCO’s warning, Interior Minister Ziad Baroud has organized a more stringent policing policy in the Qadisha Valley, and a specialized “Group of Preserving Qadisha” has been founded.
Fakherrdine stressed the importance of local residents getting involved in the fight against the valley’s degradation.
“The community [around Qadisha] also has a big role; communities can do much better than governments in changing situations,” she said.
“Unless the community takes this more seriously and starts to stand against people who are ruining this valley, nothing is going to change.”
Fakherrdine added that some communities have been known to turn a blind eye to development on protected sites, if provided with sufficient financial incentives.
“The rewards from projects such as these can be very tempting and this makes it difficult for communities to stop the damage,” she said.
When contacted on Tuesday, a UNESCO spokesperson said the organization had no knowledge of any petition and refused to comment on the valley’s perilous status.
“This is a very sensitive area,” the spokesperson said.