A television or movie scriptwriter might have hesitated before writing such a tale because it would stretch the imagination, but there it was Monday: A fire raging just above the Baabda Presidential Palace, as top leaders gathered for a session of National Dialogue.
While the blaze ultimately failed to disrupt the session, it came close to the residence of the head of state and highlighted how Lebanon’s problems will only be solved by serious planning and proactive policies, not empty rhetoric.
Firefighting helicopters were nowhere to be seen for hours after the blaze broke out, while municipal officials were ready with a standard answer, namely, “It’s not our problem.” Civil Defense personnel made it to the scene, but only after trekking up from the southern suburbs of Beirut, which is administratively part of the district of Baabda.
In other words, a forested region that hosts the residence of the president lacks the firefighting capacity to act in such emergencies – and the summer heat hasn’t started yet.
Politicians might have a field day with the weak response, but they should bear in mind that in recent years, the March 8 and March 14 camps have shared a considerable amount of responsibility when it comes to endorsing budgets and related spending items in Parliament. More importantly, the same politicians who demand more public spending on Civil Defense might easily turn around the very next day and warn of how increasing state spending will wreck the economy.
If someone could come up with a feasible plan to save Lebanon’s green spaces and avoid the kind of national embarrassment that nearly happened Monday, the public would be all ears.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 06, 2014, on page 7.