Illegal construction in Lebanon has always been a problem; at least since the civil war, anyway. Part of this is understandable; due to violence, people had to move and create homes for themselves wherever they could. These places are well-known to most Lebanese; Tari2 el-Matar (The Airport Road), Cola, Ghbeiri, Dahieh, and others. These areas are congested, with no thought as to the living conditions of the inhabitants. These places have poor sanitation and sewage systems, are over-crowded, and the people who live there live in buildings which would otherwise be condemned. Indeed, many of them have bullet-holes in the concrete, without running water, and without electricity.

The questions are many: What do you do with the people who live in these places, and what do you do with the problem of illegal construction? After all, is it fair to displace these people again? Where would you put them? By that same token, is it fair to allow the country to be overrun by illegal construction, and poor urban planning? Who is responsible for fixing these problems? 

Interestingly, this trend is increasing today; indeed, 50 houses are built on land belonging to the Maronite church in Lessa, Jbeil. This is illegal, and yet it is going on anyway. When an MTV crew tried to go to Lessa and tape the area, their footage was taken from them. Similar things happened on the airport road, and the like. The same thing happened on the Airport Road. These are Hezbollah dominated neighborhoods. This is not a phenomenon that is exclusive to Hezbollah dominated areas, but this is just one of many examples. The same thing happened to me when I was working on a class project in the Chouf; I was approached by PSP members and told to leave.

I mention this to indicate yet another trend; that the land does not belong to the Lebanese, but rather, to anyone who chooses to build where they want and feels they have the might to dominate the area. This complicates the issue, as the question of party politics comes into play. If a political party is the respected and endorsed authority in these areas (as opposed to the Lebanese government), then how does one enforce the idea of only building legally, of respecting the government and the rule of law, and only building  where licensed? How does one improve living conditions when doing so outside of political party membership is considered an intrusion?

An idealistic (but fair) answer is that it is time for political parties to endorse the government and the rule of law. It is time for them to obey the laws that they participate in making. If they are the respected authority in these areas, then their supporters will follow by example. We have not had a government for five months, and we have one now. It makes sense that we are dejected and have little faith in it; but it is the only legal authority that governs us. It only has as much power as we give it. If we want to improve the nation, it is time to do so through our national apparatus.

A more realistic answer would be to work within the system. Parties do not work for cooperation, they work for dominance. However, they ensure their survival by supporting their people and exchanging favors and services. One way of doing this is improving living conditions, by way of improving the infrastructure in these areas. Improve methods of sanitation, garbage collection, make green spaces a priority, and so forth. These people are not going to go away. If these parties dominate these areas, we might as well use them as resources to improve our nation.

A third answer at the level of the individual is that this trend can change with us. If we only build legally, improve existing buildings as opposed to building new ones, and build eco-friendly buildings, we could help reverse this trend. Lebanon’s forests were once 35% of the land, and now they are 13%. 5.5 million square meters of our beautiful land has been destroyed by rock quarries and construction, much of which are illegal. We can also prevent illegal construction by advocating for harsher penalties against those who build illegally in the future, or refuse to do business with people who set up businesses without a licensed permit.  

This is our country, and we owe it our allegiance. Let us work to make the country better. We can do it!