Lebanon: A Country of Changes
By: Rami Zurayk
Published Friday, June 15, 2012
Recently a number of graduate students of environmental studies at the American University of Beirut (AUB) carried out a study on changes in livelihoods in four rural areas in Mount Lebanon.
They studied the environmental, economic, and social transformations that accompany these changes.
The results confirmed what we already knew, but they did reveal some new and interesting issues.
The study showed that there was a great deal of symmetry in the dynamic of the changes despite the differences in the areas studied, which covered from the Koura area in the North to the Chouf just south of Beirut.
The war in Lebanon also figured in the study, which showed that it had a huge effect on two levels.
First, it prompted local residents to voluntarily or forcibly emigrate, which led to the collapse of the traditional rural economy.
And, second, the war destroyed the social contract between the citizen and the state.
This bond was never strong, but it was replaced by the law of the jungle, which only serves the interests of the powerful and contributes to the spread of corruption.
The study also sheds light on the changes in traditional agricultural systems, particularly the virtual disappearance of seasonal rain-fed crops, such as grains, and the spread of irrigated agriculture.
This has contributed to the reduction of cultivated areas as a result of the limited availability of water for irrigation.
The study also discusses the breakup of the traditional civil structures of villages and towns in the areas surveyed.
These were often built around places where residents gathered daily, such as the public square, place of worship, and water spring.
In contrast, today houses are built on previously cultivated land.
This has changed the character of the land and of our rural areas, turning them into extensions of the cities.
One of the things that has remained unchanged throughout the years is the inequality of land ownership.
A small number of landowners remain in control of large areas, while the rest of the population compete over the crumbs.
It seems, therefore, that the interests of the wealthy in Lebanon are able to withstand profound historical changes. What a country!
Rami Zurayk is Al-Akhbar's environment columnist and author of the blog Land and People.
The views expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect Al-Akhbar's editorial policy.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.