08 April 2003
Maha Al-Azar – Daily Star
Elementary and intermediate school students proved to be a tough crowd for Beirut MP Atef Majdalani and Zghorta MP Nayla Mouawad to deal with on Monday when they were on the receiving end of previously prepared questions on the environment and health issues.
The question-and-answer session, organized by local environmental organization Green Line, the World Health Organization and the Health Ministry, was held to mark World Health Day, the theme of which this year is environmental health. “We’re here today to confirm that you have a right to clean, smoke-free air, clean fresh water, public gardens, public beaches and safe food,” said Malaz Kawwas of Green Line. Children asked questions about enforcing environmental measures such as the military services planting trees in Beirut , banning smoking in public spaces, and dealing with industrial pollution.
Beirut MP Atef Majdalani told students that “there’s nothing to prevent” MPs from calling for an Environment Volunteer Day, which would be held every month. Nearly 100 students, aged from 8 to 12 and coming from 10 schools in Beirut and its suburbs, participated in the session.
Emphasizing the importance of ecological balance, Mohammed Beydoun, 13, asked about the law for removing violations on coastal properties: “Is this law about to be passed, or is there political pressure preventing that?” he asked. Zghorta MP Nayla Mouawad, who heads Parliament’s Children Committee, admitted to political pressure but said they would keep pushing for the law. “Violations to coastal and river property not only harm the environment, but also the people who erect the illegal constructions, as we could see from this winter’s floods caused by the violations,” said Majdalani.
Yara Shalouhi, 13, suggested banning smoking from all public areas and levying fines against those who do not comply, and that the price of cigarettes be raised. Majdalani said MPs were working on banning all tobacco advertising, as well as the sale of cigarettes and the narghile in restaurants to those below 18 years old.
“It is a huge battle with those who are benefiting from the tobacco industry but we will push for it,” Majdalani told students. The WHO Lebanon Representative, Habib Latiri, prodded students to pressure their parents and relatives to stop smoking and to pledge never to take up the harmful habit themselves.
He also pointed out in his opening speech that some of the biggest threats to the health and safety of children lie in places where they should feel safe: their homes, schools and immediate environment. Majdalani and Mouawad looked amused and impressed with the questions, although most of the children did not seem to reciprocate the feeling. “They’ve been telling us these things since we were small,” said Nour Fayed, 12, at the end of the meeting. “It’s all talk.”
Mohammed Ajami, 12, echoed the sentiment: “They talk and don’t implement.” But Assaad Khoury, 11, said he learnt a lot from the debate. “They gave us a lot of information,” he said. “We learnt a lot.” Rawya Jouni from Kawthar High School ‘s counselling and guidance department also said she wished to see results.
“Let’s hope we will get somewhere with this,” she said, “because already the children are asking me ‘what will happen next, will anything be implemented?’” “At least they voiced what they wanted,” said Nisrine Nassereddine, one of the organizers of the meeting and a Green Line member.
“If MPs see that someone is asking and caring and things won’t pass unnoticed, they will feel that there’s control and they would not stick with slogans and speeches,” she added. “Our young students are our hope.”