Horsh Beirut (Le Bois des Pins) is a 250,000 m2 park, representing more than 70 % of Beirut public green spaces. Before the war, in 1967, the park occupied a surface of 800,000 m2. It was completely burned down during the war, and was replanted after it. Going back in time, under the Ottoman domination during the seventeenth century, Horsh Beirut was a pine forest of 1,250,000 m2.
10 % of the park is open to public, while the remaining 90 % is not. To access the closed part (which is a green oasis in a concrete jungle), one must be over 35 years of age and request a license from the municipality, or show a foreign passport at the gate. People having access to the park can bring friends with them.
Some people may call that discrimination. However, after visiting the park for the first time, I understand why it is not open to everybody unconditionally. The aim of the municipality of Beirut that manages the park is not to discriminate, but to preserve it. The real discrimination would have been to make people pay at the entrance, which is not, and won’t be, the case.
Opening it without having the means to enforce laws and regulations would transform the park into a smoking (narguileh) and barbeque area, with the risk to trigger fires during summer, and people stripping or clomping plants. Get a look on other public spaces in Beirut if you’re not convinced!
Also, an important detail that differentiates the Corniche from the Horsh for example, is that messing up with the concrete (Corniche) can be easily repaired, whereas messing up with the ecosystem in the Horsh would take years to be repaired. (soon expect pictures from the park on Blue Lebanon)
The park occupies a very large surface, and unless there is a team of people in charge of security patrolling all day long, it is very risky to open it unconditionally. Realistically, Beirut is not yet ready to undertake such a step.
However, it is a pity to keep Beiruti away from the park. Many of us have never visited it. Some even ignore its existence. My suggestion would be to widen the range of people able to access it; for example:
- A special permit could be granted to Lebanese athletes (runners in particular) requesting it. The park is a marvelous place where to practice.
- Special permits could be granted to schools wishing to bring their students once a week to a healthy walk / outdoor games in the park, at specific hours. The students could be accompanied by a guard/guide to make sure that they are following rules, in addition of being accompanied by their teachers.
Those are only a few ideas to increase the number of people having access to the park, without risking to compromise it. I’m sure that we can come up with many more innovative ideas. Things are not necessarily white or black, shades exist, and it is what I’m proposing.
For the last 6 months, some organizations (between them a few environmental NGOs) have been campaigning to request Horsh Beirut to completely open.
Well, in my opinion, environmental NGOs have better to do. Opening the lung of Beirut risks to damage it more than anything else. NGOs should battle to create new green spaces, improve public transportation, close some streets to car, and limit new constructions in Beirut. It is easier said than done, I know, but it is urgent to work on that. Every day our city is getting more asphyxiated. And this is the case of the rest of Lebanon as well.
Concerning the lack of public and green spaces in Beirut, closing some streets to car, planting sidewalks with ‘real’ trees (not the trees that are cut in square every 6 months!!), and adding benches, would create some, and improve the quality of life of its citizens.
Horsh Beirut is our joker, our last resource, a granary of biodiversity (birds) and oxygen, that should be respected as a sacred place. It is not a place where to conduct experimentations…
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You have surely noticed them! The ants of Beirut, tireless and everywhere, constantly patrolling the city and delving into the garbage bins.
For ‘us’, garbage is useless, a stinking burden. For them, garbage means bread for them and their family, garbage has a value.
Men and teenagers ‘clean’ bin after bin. Some have trucks, other have carts or baskets. Most probably, there is a centralized organization synchronizing their individual efforts.
Recycling factories need raw material to run, and they are very happy to buy the wastes that these people collect; for example, the kilo of plastic is at around 500 LL and the kilo of aluminum is at 1,000 LL.
Wastes have value, and land-filling wastes is simply a loss of money for a country that does not have natural resources, beside being a tremendous threat for the environment. Even worse, in some towns wastes are savagely incinerated, without any regards for our lungs. (You can read more about wastes problems in Lebanon here.)
Beirut, and Lebanon in general, urgently need a serious recycling plan. Things have to be easy and straightforward for citizens: where should we throw our wastes, how should recycling bins be used, etc…
In other developing countries, in order to encourage people to recycle, the State gives them goods (potatoes, etc…) against sorted wastes. It is something to be considered in Lebanon too.
There have been many anti-littering campaigns going on in the country (metel ma shelta is the last example) unfortunately everybody seems to be forgetting recycling, which is much more urgent environmentally speaking. If you have ideas, feel free to share them with Blue Lebanon. We are always ready to collaborate…
Meanwhile, we are left to silently thank the ants that are avoiding tons and tons of wastes to end up in nature and in our lungs.
Horns, diesel generators running all day long (unique solution to power outages), construction sites in every corner of Beirut (where buildings grow faster than trees), loud music while driving (“shou cool!”), jigsaws, heavy trucks, ill-timed alarms. Not to mention cell phones ringing when they shouldn’t … We are constantly affected by noise. However, few people know and care about the effect of everyday sounds on our health.
Noise can be harmful:
- For the hearing: prolonged exposure to sounds of about 85dB is a major cause of damage to the ear on the long term. A one-time exposure to a very high noise leads to hearing fatigue. (This is the sensation of hearing loss experienced when you exit high noise areas such as nightclubs, concerts …). Although reversible in few hours, this feeling may, if repeated, cause serious impairment of hearing.
- It can cause sleep disturbance, leading to a high consumption of tranquilizers and sleeping pills … (can you sleep or relax amid the noise of a construction site, horns and shouts?).
- Cardiovascular disorders: there is a relationship between hypertension and exposure to loud sounds and sudden sounds of very low intensity. (Have you ever jumped at the sound of a horn, unexpected fireworks, and felt that your heart rate has increased for a while?). These effects are due to the fact that exposure to this kind of noise increases the secretion of certain hormones that can cause tachycardia (elevated heart rate) and hypertension.
- Irritability (does it explain a bit more the character of Lebanese?)
- At home, the double glazing is a good insulator.
- If you are obliged to work in a loud noise environment, use noise-canceling headphones.
Other measures, more difficult, are essential:
- Sound insulation, close to highways in particular.
- Some anti-noise laws are also welcome. If you have ideas please comment suggesting them!
You are advised to read more about hearing damaging and protection here.
Remember that the ear is a very fragile organ, and that damage is often irreversible.
Walking in Clemenceau (Hamra) at 6 PM, hour at which honks bluster and people get hysterical, I stumbled upon a unusual spectacle : an old man taking care fatherly of the tree (planted by the municipality) in front of his house.
Notice that the sidewalk is regularly planted with this same tree, but this is the only one in flowers, the tallest and healthiest.
Aromatic herbs and flowers closely packed grow in the small space under the tree. This made me think of how little soil area we inhabitants of Beirut have. Most of people don’t care, they don’t even know what nature is or means. But some, like this old man and his wife, surely suffer from it.
I continued to gaze at them, until I noticed the roof of their small and modest house. Notice the variety of shrubs and flowers.
There are many ‘low cost’ ways to increase the greenery in Beirut. And I am not speaking of the palm trees imported from the desert (that look artificial) planted in front of McDonald’s or Roadster, but of a healthier greenery.
In future, Blue Lebanon will devote a lot of time and energy on proposing and trying to implement plans to improve our city, but for now, I will just unveil a couple of ideas.
- Sidewalks are sometimes very large in front of new buildings. Owners should be encouraged to make use of some of this space to plant. It is not chic to have 20 m2 of flat concrete.
- The municipality should allow and encourage people to plant trees (or take care of existing trees) in front of their houses (instead of discouraging them as it is the case now).
As promised, much more will come in the future months concerning the topic of trees and greenery in the city.
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Blue Lebanon will try to share some random pictures every week.
If you have interesting pictures you would like us to publish send them to email@example.com with a small comment.
If you have questions about the pictures posted, don’t hesitate to ask them!
How to behave during a strong Earthquake:
- Immediately seek a safe location such as beneath a table or desk, along an interior wall, or in a doorway (if you live in an old, adobe house that is not reinforced), away from windows or hazardous objects.
- Protect the back of your head and your eyes (most people die because of flying objects, not because of building collapses). The best is to Drop, Cover, and Hold On! Drop to avoid falling if the earthquake is strong (it is sometimes impossible to run or even crawl during a strong earthquake), protect your head with your hands or a pillow if you’re in the bed, and don’t move until the quake stops.
- Do not take stairs (that might collapse) and elevator (that may remain blocked).
- If cooking, turn off heating elements immediately.
- If outdoors, stay in open areas away from buildings, power lines, trees and other potential hazards.
- If driving, stop quickly but safely and stay in the vehicle. Do not stop near power lines, bridges, overpasses or other potentially dangerous locations.
- Stay calm and brace yourself to keep your balance, sitting if possible.
After a strong earthquake, just get as far as you can from the sea. An altitude of 50 m should be enough to be safe (very easy to reach). In case you don’t have time to escape, just climb up in a building. A tsunami would have moderate impact in Lebanon since the country does not have large flat-lands on the sea level.
I just picked out the most important points, if you want to know more about it just give a look to this link. Your homework is now to tell your family about it, and to keep these rules in a backward part of your mind!
As you may know – or not – major earthquakes have occurred and may occur again in Lebanon; Beirut has been destroyed several times during the 2000 last years. The next strong earthquake could take place today as well as in 1000 years.
The danger is that the country and the people are not prepared to face it, and a earthquake of 6-7 on the Richter scale could have devastating consequences. It is useless to panic or live in fear of such an event, but it is also very important to know how to behave, since it can save your life in case of major earthquake.
In Lebanon, we are champions of over-cooling and over-heating, long sleeves in summer and T-shirts in winter! It is a stupid practice that literally throws money and energy into the sea.
When one’s see how deficient is the electrical network in Lebanon, it is a pity and a shame to waste such a precious ‘commodity’.
Cooling is very greedy energetically speaking : it can use up to 60-70% of the electricity consumed by a house during warm seasons. One AC unit consumes (in average) as much electricity as 12 normal light or 25 economical lights!
Electricity is mainly produced with gas, oil and carbon in Lebanon. The factories release heavy columns of dark smoke, which end up in our lungs. [see pulmonary diseases and increase in cancer rates]. They also contribute to the air and marine pollution [see Zouk and Jiyyeh factories] and global warming.
Diesel generators (“moteur”) are even worse since they are less efficient than larger power plants (they need to burn more fuel to produce the same quantity of electricity) and their owners sell their electricity to much higher costs.
[Pictures taken from Petition to Reduce Pollution Caused by Zouk Power Plant.]
Here follow some tips to decrease your use of A/C, without renouncing to your comfort :
- Make a good use of windows. Open them during the night, and close them during the day to keep the freshness inside. When you’re not in a room, close shutters to keep sun rays outside.
- Use fans! Fans consume 10 to 20 times less electricity respect to an A/C and can make you feel 3 to 8 degrees cooler (they don’t cool the air, they remove the heat that accumulates around your body). A fan is more than enough to be comfortable during the warm seasons (from May till the mid July, and from the beginning of September till the end of October).
- If A/C is absolutely needed, you can set its temperature a little higher (24-25-26°C). The highest the pre set temperature, the lowest the consumption. You can also couple the A/C with a fan.
- “The net cooling effect of a young, healthy tree is equivalent to ten room-size air conditioners operating 20 hours a day.” (US Department of Agriculture). If you (can) plant shade trees close to the walls and windows of your house, be assured that the needs in cooling will diminish.
If you are interested to read more in depth about how to decrease your cooling needs (and energy needs at home), you are strongly advice to give a look to the following website.
It is normal to sometimes feel hot and sweaty in summer (and cold in winter). And not the contrary! Creating an artificial climate at home will only make you feel more unbearable the heat outside, and make you nag more about it.
There are a few places where it is impossible to live without air conditioning. These places are easy to identify: they were uninhabited until well into the 20th century. If the place you live now was not in prior days a desolate wasteland, unseen except by the occasional nomad or caravan, then air conditioning is not required. [continue reading on www.wisebread.com]
Another bad thing about A/C is that it contributes to the Urban Heat Island by releasing large amounts of heat outdoors, which will in turn increase cooling needs! (an A/C operates by pumping the heat that is indoors and throwing it outdoors). Cities are often 2-3 c warmer respect to the immediately surrounding rural areas.
Planting trees inside the city (park, small garden, or even on your balcony) can decrease the temperature locally.
We have focused on the air conditioning, but there are many other ways to save energy (saving money while polluting less). We advice you the following website which is rather complete, but you can also find plenty of practical information on Google.
Support this campaign by sharing this post on social media (Facebook, Twitter…), by sending it to your friends by email. Let a maximum of Lebanese become aware about it! Here is our Facebook ‘event’. Find posted on the ‘wall’ an easy way to invite all your friends.
You can also print the tips and put the paper in a place where other people would read it (office, university, school…).
“Turn off your A/C, Open your window” is Blue Lebanon first campaign. We would appreciate to hear the feedback of our readers.
Note: we have tried to keep our analysis as simple as possible, without introducing terminologies that engineer usually use. All the numbers used are an estimation (there are different models of A/C, every place and situation are different).