Development Protects the Environment
By Rafic Hariri
The third millennium promises huge technological and scientific breakthroughs, which open to mankind horizons that were, not long ago, considered to belong in the realms of science fiction. However, past successes in exploring the secrets of the universe have coincided with appalling damage to our small blue planet. Its limited resources have been depleted, its waters, air and soil polluted. While seeking a more abundant life, man has destroyed basic elements on which his life depends.
I was moved by the environmental warning contained in the editorial of the last issue of Environment & Development magazine, but I equally I saw hope as I read about projects executed by students in Lebanese schools through the activities of Environment & Development Club. I felt a growing confidence for the future as I read the environmental reports prepared by students from hundreds of schools in all parts of Lebanon. This demonstrates an increasing environmental awareness among the new generation. What attracted my attention above all was that the students proceeded from just identifying environmental problems to seeking solutions and implementing projects to help protect their environment. That is a practical implementation of the slogan promoted by the magazine: "A Better Environment Begins with You". In fact, each citizen is responsible.
Environmental policies around the world have committed mistakes against the environment. Nature's resources were plundered for short-term gains. This coincided with the surge of ambitious economic development plans. Lebanon was not aloof from all this. War destroyed its economy and social and material infrastructure. The environment was a major victim of the war and the years that followed. Militants did not safeguard the environment, since they had no respect for human life itself. Chaos led to random construction, deforestation, quarrying and an absence of legislation to regulate industrial and development activities.
When the war was over, priority was given to establishing civil peace and meeting basic needs of the citizens. Our country was devastated, including its people, nature, institutions and basic services. The environment must be our central concern today and in the future. When we lose our environment and our resources, we lose the foundation of life in this country. For our part, we have placed the environment as a priority on our agenda for the third millennium. Recent progress around the world has confirmed that environmentally sound decisions can also be sound economically.
Appropriate development is not anti-environmental. The basic requirement is to provide a new quality of life for everyone, sustainable and in balance with the limited resources of nature. Basic services, such as clean water and modern sewage, power and communication networks, as well as creating opportunities for economic growth, will help improve the state of the environment, since economic stability is a prerequisite for environmental stability. Only a self-sufficient and self-confident community can be qualified for protecting the environment and planning for the future.
We call for an environmental state of emergency in Lebanon, to stop immediately all activities causing irreparable damage to nature and resources, and to set an explicit environmental policy and a plan-of-action within a timetable. The environmental management that we are calling for is not an addition to the development policy. It is, rather, an integral part of this policy. It is time to step forward from uttering environmental slogans on special occasions to setting definite goals for addressing issues such as air and water pollution, chaotic land-use and industrial planning and control.
Environmental research must be encouraged. A National Environment Agency should be established, entrusted with carrying out scientific research and setting standards. This will ensure that environmental policies are based on reliable data and not amateurish guessing and witch-hunts.
Implementation of sound environmental policies cannot be achieved through restrictions and taxes only, but also through incentives which would reward sound environmental practices and encourage individuals and establishments to adopt measures for protecting the environment, such as granting material support and tax exemptions while imposing taxes and fines on polluters.
We should all work together - citizens, politicians, and decision-makers alike - to ensure a healthy environment for future generations.
In appreciation of the pioneering work of Environment & Development magazine to promote sound environmental concepts and practices, especially among the younger generation, I have decided to present annual subscriptions of the magazine, in addition to the environmental books it published, as a gift to the libraries of 500 schools all over Lebanon.
Persevere in your work for the environment.
Long live the environment. Long live Lebanon.
* A message from former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri to Environment & Development magazine, which it publishes in its January 2000 issue.