Qadisha Valley: Fending Off Invaders
By: Joanne Bajjaly
Published Friday, July 27, 2012
Qadisha Valley is struggling to maintain its pristine beauty as developers and nearby residents wage a war of attrition against this UN-designated World Heritage site.
Qadisha valley passed the UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization) test. It will not be removed from the list of World Heritage sites.
This was confirmed in a report by the organization’s experts who visited the valley a few months ago and submitted their letters to the organization assessing the current state of the valley.
The details of the report have not yet been made public, but experts on the issue confirm that it does not entail a request to remove the site from the World Heritage list.
Instead, the report calls for serious efforts towards preserving its historic and natural identity. The report also rejected a development project submitted by an engineering firm to the trustees of Qadisha, one of whom is the Maronite Patriarchate.
At a meeting held some months back, the Maronite Patriarchate had raised the issue of developing the valley when the engineering firm presented a detailed study about ways to develop tourism in Qadisha.
The firm suggested installing a cable car line to cross the valley and adding bridges made of natural fibers to connect the two sides of the valley.
The project also suggested nature and bird watching spots surrounded by restaurants.
To be able to accomplish this project, a road would need to be built in the valley, facilitating the influx of tourists.
The most surprising suggestion in the proposed project is the building of a model village of 200 housing units under the pretext of bringing back the valley’s residents.
These ideas, however, undermine attempts to include Qadisha valley on the World Heritage list.
President of the Community for the Preservation of Qadisha (COSAQ), Riad Kairouz, says: “The suggested development project is a great idea for any area other than Qadisha. This valley has enough qualities to make it an engine of growth for all the surrounding villages.”
“All it needs is protection and the maintenance of its landmarks to preserve its identity and pass it on to future generations,” he adds.
“This is what qualified it to be on the World Heritage list and that is very clear in the documented management plan of the ministry of culture and UNESCO.”
But no one is working according to this plan.
COSAQ is ineffective because municipalities withdrew from it, the Maronite Patriarchate is sitting on the sidelines, and the police station in the valley (its establishment last year was considered an achievement) has only one policeman.
Only the municipalities of the Bcharre district provide garbage collection for the valley and pay the salaries of the guards, who wield only moral authority.
Kairouz says that “violations are a dime a dozen. The management plan caps the number of visitors to the valley at 750 people, while the number of visitors on Sundays usually exceeds 2,000.”
“With the start of the tourism and pilgrimage seasons, the threat of forest fires is back, because of the fires that picnickers start near the river,” he continues.
“There is also the threat of pollution due to the garbage that visitors leave in the valley and damage to the trees due to the entry of cars. The only thing we’ve managed to do is prevent the entry of ATV’s (all-terrain vehicles).”
The problems do not end there. In the past few months, the valley witnessed a tree massacre. In the town of Hadad, 400 oak trees were cut down after residents received a permit to prune eight trees from the ministry of agriculture.
“Permits are given and since no one monitors or follows up, eight trees become hundreds. In winter, a tree on one street severed an electric cable, so maintenance workers cut down 40 trees,” Kairouz says.
The Monastery of St Anthony - Qozhaya submitted a request to the ministry of agriculture for permission to cut down a small forest (for charcoal) on a piece of land that belongs to it.
Fortunately, the ministry rejected the request. But it is hoped that its decision banning inflicting damage to the trees of the valley will be a final one.
Kairouz adds that one of the basic clauses in the management plan “demands banning construction on the edges of the valley so that a visitor walking around can be away from loud noises and cafes buzzing with music. That, however, did not happen.”
Every winter, new buildings appear on the edges of the valley, and when officials try to raise the issue they are told that preserving the valley is being done at the expense of its residents.
So as not to halt regional economic development by placing the site on the World Heritage list, the municipality of Ehden has decided to allow steel buildings that can be dismantled so that they can give permits for cafes along the edge of the valley.
The area has grown economically, but suffered environmentally and culturally.
Under these circumstances, efforts to preserve the valley remain minimal, and the reality of the situation – which is essentially now controlled chaos – will last only until things spin completely out of control.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.