|Lebanon to host facility aimed at funding environmental projects|
|Environment Ministry officials announced Monday a proposal to establish an Arab Environmental Facility that will be based in Lebanon to supply funds for environmental projects all over the Arab world.
Speaking during a public debate, organized by the ministry on an array of the most controversial current environmental issues, the director general of the Environment Ministry Berge Hadjian, said this fund will raise $30 million as a first step, with the aim of collecting $300 million in the future.
The debate, held at the Beirut International Exhibition and Leisure Center, was dedicated to promoting environmental transparency and informing the public about the state of the environment.
But due to time constraints, the meeting, which was attended by policy makers and representatives from the media, NGOs and municipalities, very briefly dealt with broad topics such as quarries, waste management and natural reserves.
With a campaign slogan - represented by a green ribbon - that reads: "Even when it comes to the environment, we want the truth," Environment Minister Yaacoub Sarraf urged all citizens to "criticize all activities or decisions they deem harmful to the environment, as well as provide suggestions to the ministry."
Sarraf added that the ministry intended to carry out several similar gatherings to allow people to exercise their right to question the ministry's policies, receive answers and hold the ministry accountable.
The minister summarized the Environment Ministry's policy in six points: fighting corruption, promoting transparency and accountability, adopting preventive strategies, carrying out sustainable development, advocating the "polluters pay" principle and encouraging environment-friendly investments.
Speaking on the behalf of the UN Development Program, Maurice Dewolf, made a series of suggestions to the ministry to promote "openness and dialogue," which would include publishing regular - and people friendly - State of the Environment Reports.
The European Commission's representative in Lebanon Patrick Renauld urged the government to adopt an "active" policy for protecting the environment, stressing there was "money to gain in industries and services linked to the preservation of the environment."
As participants delved into the controversial issue of rock and sand quarries, experts at the Environment Ministry offered an overview of the laws and decrees issued on this topic, with the latest ministerial decision aimed at further organizing quarrying and granting municipalities additional authority, such as monitoring the pits.
Waste management was also high up on the agenda as ministry officials said that there were around 70 "chaotic" dump sites, including those of Bourj Hammoud and Sidon desperately in need of a solution.
However, officials stressed that their organization required funds, political will and the establishment of proper legal and implementation frameworks.
They also presented an overview of hospital waste management, stressing that the ministry was working on making hospitals comply with its strict set of environmental regulations regarding waste disposal.
Regarding issue of natural resources, Lina Yamout, an expert at the ministry, spoke of a draft law on natural reserves, which "promotes people's participation in the preservation of natural sites by encouraging environment-friendly activities in these sites."
While there are currently seven areas classified as natural reserves and accounting for 2 percent of Lebanese territory, the ministry announced its intention to increase the number of these reserves to 30.
Beirut,05 31 2006
Raed El Rafei
The Daily Star