Some newly-discovered archaeological sites are being preserved
12 months ago
Habib Battah has spent years documenting the mixed blessings of Beirut’s construction boom on his blog, the Beirut Report. Thanks to Press Start donors who helped Habib successfully reach his campaign target, he can continue his work documenting the sweetheart deals that enable luxury developments and the destruction of ancient sites unearthed in the process.
Habib is a two-time recipient of the Samir Kassir Award for Freedom of the Press whose work has had demonstrable impact in the Lebanese capital. His documentation of the discovery of ancient Roman ruins at the site of a $150 million development project swayed the government’s decision to cancel the project and preserve the site for posterity.
Backing from Press Start donors is vital to Habib’s ongoing project on tracking the fate of more than 100 ancient sites discovered during the construction boom that has remade Beirut since the end of the civil war in 1990. Only a handful of the sites survive. In most cases, testimony to the city’s 5,000 year history made way for luxury apartments and shopping centers, many owned by politicians. Little has been done to preserve or even signpost the few surviving sites.
Not all the news is bad: as Habib reports, some newly-discovered archaeological sites are being preserved, even as old neighborhoods fall to the wrecking ball.
The support of the Press Start community and other donors is helping Habib ask probing questions:Who is accountable for the decisions that have led to the destruction of Beirut and Lebanon’s archeological heritage? Have many ruins disappeared as some allege? The Ministry of Culture often complains that it lacks resources, but what is being done to raise funding or create local and international partnerships to share costs?
Much of Beirut’s construction bonanza has benefited politicians and well-connected developers while leaving ordinary people to pay the price. The muckraking work of Habib and others is helping turn the tables:
“There has been a recent trend in citizen activism, and several major projects have been delayed or halted,” he says. “I feel there is a need to build on this momentum, to cover these battles and try to encourage others to realize that reporting can make an impact.”