The greatest threat to Lebanon currently is the disastrous state of its environment which seems to concern every citizen. There are several forms of pollution that affects the atmosphere and people. The major agricultural sources of pollutants include sediments, nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen, salts, pesticides and animal wastes. There is tremendous increase in the use of synthetic fertilizers and chemicals which leads to the increase of foreign particles in the soil. Various actions are required to reduce the extreme dangers that are increasing on the daily basis. This paper discuses various aspects of environmental pollution in Lebanon that includes the causes of pollution, the effects of pollution and the appropriate actions that should be taken by the citizens and the government to reduce this problem.
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Agricultural causes of pollution in Lebanon
Agricultural pollution comes from irrigation and organic wastes produced from farms in the form of manure slurries, silage effluent and diary washings which end up returning to man if tracked by the food chain .The size of this pollution resulted from the small agricultural enterprise manned by relatively non-professional agriculturists reflected in the irrigation systems, techniques and use of agrochemicals. Application rate for irrigation is very high compared with crop demand. About one quarter of cultivated land is irrigated by basin flooding in the Bekaa resulting in substantial system losses from damaged and traditional networks. This system leads to extremely low efficiency in use, long term soil salination hence break down soil structure (Najib, H).
Use of agrochemicals represents a direct polluting factor affecting the agricultural sector. It is related to the excessive use of pesticides for irrigated crops. During the harvest season, when sprays are regularly required in green house and on irrigated lands, farmers do not conform to the specified waiting period where they use out-dated coarse sprays for application of pesticides, which encourages over use and poses health risks to consumers of crops. The current unregulated use of pesticides caused considerable levels of pesticides to enter the food chain, through contamination of ground and surface water as well as direct contamination of food product, and marine life. Fertilizers are used in areas where agriculture is intensive, available at relatively low cost, distributed irregularly by the private sector. Its use is considered excessive and detrimental to the country's calcareous soils as well as contaminating ground water with nitrates. Also, rainfall encourages the nitrate leaching promoting its movement to ground water (Najib, H).
In Lebanon, the water in the sea is characterized by very high chemical and biological contamination. In 1997, studies were conducted on the fish from the sea which were caught along the coast and it was found that they had plastic in their stomachs. Also, the traces of pesticides such as the DDT have been discovered in offshore areas. There are two rivers in Lebanon namely; Litani and Nahr Ibrahim rivers which are the most polluted rivers in the country. For instance, the Karaun Lake which is fed by Litan River was found to contain high concentrations of pesticide residues. Due to this, the lake was put off limits for fisherman because the fish were contaminated with the pesticides (Cedarland).
In Lebanon, fertilizers and pesticides are used in excessive amounts and the farmers seem not to conform to the appropriate specified time period which is supposed to elapse between the successive application of the chemical and harvesting so as to safeguard the health of the food consumers. In addition, the country has very few professional field experts and agricultural engineers which cannot be able to reach all the farmers. The agricultural chemical and pesticide distributors or the people who sells them are the appropriate sources of information for the farmers. The chemicals containers often lack the correct instructions, expiry dates and labels. In some occasions, the chemical that are banned in other places for their damaging effect on the environment are sold to the Lebanese farmers. These practices pose some health threats to the farm workers and other members of the public. The pollution may also cause resistance of some pests to the commonly used pesticides. Overgrazing has also contributed to environmental pollution. For instance, Lebanon was covered by natural forests which has been greatly reduced (Cedarland).
Effects of agricultural pollution on the environment
In Lebanon, there are many devastating impacts that have been documented. The incorrect and an uncontrolled use of agricultural chemicals and pesticides have caused a very big damage to the soils and to the health of the wildlife and human beings. This has become a big environmental challenge to the Lebanese government. According to Masri, the lack of education, guidance, enforcement and control has led to the wrong application of pesticides. The utilization of incorrect farm equipments has made the farmers to use more quantities than the correct amount. Although the use of fertilizers have reduced, the rates of application on the fruit crops has increased more especially in the areas with large populations and more agricultural activities such as the coastal regions (Jabbra, G. J, Dwiveli, O. P, IASIA & International Institute of Administrative Sciences, Pg 132).
The pollution due to the release of toxic matters leads to the soil deterioration. Naturally, the absorption capacity of the soil is lost when the soil is deteriorated. In addition, the soil losses the ability of providing nutrients to crops leading to the reduction of natural productivity. The soil supports crops' life through water medium and all the essential elements that are required by the earth comes from the soil. For instance, the fish and other aquatic life depend on various plants that are nourished by the nutrients of soil that are dissolved in water. Therefore, water and soil are the bases of animal and plant lives. The soil deterioration that is occurring in Lebanon is a deterioration of the very basis of civilization (Masri, R.).
The remedies to the environmental crisis
The following steps should be taken in order to save Lebanon from its agricultural pollution and environmental crisis (Azar, M. Pg 12-6).
i. Set environmentally-friendly standards for the use of the agricultural chemicals, pesticides, hormones and fertilizers.
ii. Reclaim sites of old stone quarries by transforming them into agricultural terraces, complimented by a forestation program, at the expense of the parties that had illegally exploited them; conduct a feasibility study on importing rocks and stones from neighboring countries to help preserve the stressed Lebanese landscape.
iii. Launch various national reforestation programs to cover more hectares with trees over a period of 10 years.
iv. The organic farming should be encouraged and the farmers should be trained to use natural methods. Also, the marketing of organic farming produce through specialized co-operatives should be supported.
v. An integrated forest management plans that includes the fire protection should be developed. This should be done in collaboration with civil society and local authorities.
vi. The rural industries for drying and preserving fruits and other crops by using appropriate methods such as solar energy should be established.
vii. Museums, natural history and environmental science centers should be established where the general public and the farmers should be thought about the environment and nature.
viii. The various environmental programs should be established in schools and intensive training sessions for teachers on environmental themes and activities endorsed.
ix. Various radio and television time should be designated for agricultural pollution and environmental education.
x. Various environmental information plans that aims at changing individual attitudes and behavior towards specific environmental issues should be launched.
xi. Various researches on pollution issues and agriculture should be conducted which will play an important role of providing current information that is necessary in the making of institutional policies. A holistic approach to the whole ecosystem is crucial for formulation of the policies regarding the environment.
In conclusion, the impoverishment of nature has increasingly degraded its capability of protecting the crops from pests and replenishing the soils. To fight pollution in Lebanon, the three major areas should be altered and strengthened. For instance, the environmental education should be integrated in the Lebanese education system to ensure that the new generation is raised on the important principles of respecting nature. Secondly, various researches on pollution issues and agriculture should be conducted. Finally, people should help in protecting the deteriorating Lebanese environment by promoting the general awakening in the significance of the environment in the society. It should not be a matter of doing away with some opinions but facilitating the people understands that when there is absence of better policies in all matters relating to the environment, the future of Lebanon will be compromised leading to the sacrificing of the future generations.
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