I. Introduction

Lebanon (country) (Arabic Lubnan), republic on the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea in Southwest Asia. Lebanon's coastal location, high mountain backbone, and climate have greatly influenced the country's history, peoples, and economy. The coastal area of present-day Lebanon was settled more than 7,000 years ago and later evolved as the heart of seafaring Phoenicia. To help conduct their sea trade, the Phoenicians developed the first alphabet and colonized the western Mediterranean. In the early centuries AD, a largely Christian population and culture arose, which later blended with—though was not overwhelmed by—Islamic influences. Following centuries of Ottoman control, France ruled Lebanon under a League of Nations mandate after the Ottoman Empire was defeated in World War I (1914-1918). During World War II (1939-1945) Lebanon became an independent republic and for three decades prospered under a free-market economy. However, the country experienced increasing hostility among rival religious groups, especially between Christians and Muslims. These and other domestic tensions, intensified by foreign influences, erupted into the devastating Lebanese Civil War from 1975 to 1990. Beirut is Lebanon's capital, principal port, and largest city.

II. Land and Resources

Lebanon is a small country of only 10,452 sq km (4,036 sq mi); from north to south it extends 217 km (135 mi) and from east to west it spans 80 km (50 mi) at its widest point. The country is bounded by Syria on both the north and east and by Israel on the south. Lebanon's landforms fall into four parallel belts that run from northeast to southwest: a narrow coastal plain along the Mediterranean shore; the massive Lebanon Mountains (often referred to locally as Mount Lebanon) that rise steeply from the plain to dominate the entire country before dropping eastward; a fertile intermontane (between-mountain) basin called the Bekáa Valley (Al Biqa'); and the ridges of the Anti-Lebanon Mountains, shared with Syria. Lebanon's highest peaks are Qurnat as Sawda' (3,088 m/10,131 ft) in the country's north, and volcanic Mount Hermon (2,814 m/9,232 ft) at the southern end of the Anti-Lebanons. The country's name comes from the old Semitic word laban, meaning “white,” which refers to the heavy snow in the mountains.

A. Climate

Most of Lebanon has a Mediterranean climate, with warm, dry summers, and cool, wet winters, although the climate varies somewhat across the landform belts. The coastal plain is subtropical, with 900 mm (35 in) of annual rainfall and a mean temperature in Beirut of 27°C (80°F) in summer and 14°C (57°F) in winter. In the Lebanon Mountains, temperatures decrease and precipitation increases with elevation: Heavy winter snows linger well into summer, making the Lebanon Mountains more pleasant in the summer than the humid coast; higher altitudes receive as much as 1,275 mm (50 in) of annual precipitation. The Bekáa Valley and the Anti-Lebanon Mountains are situated in the rain shadow of the Lebanon Mountains and as a result have hot, dry summers and cold winters with occasional rain.

B. Rivers and Lakes

Although Lebanon has no navigable rivers or major natural lakes, springs in the Bekáa feed two small noteworthy rivers: the Litani flows south, where it is used for irrigation and hydroelectric-power generation, and then west through a gorge into the Mediterranean; the Orontes flows north and across Syria into Turkey. Many major springs can be found along the western slopes of the Lebanon Moutains. Throughout the country, many streams flow only during the winter rainy season. Combined with runoff from melting snow, these sources provide Lebanon with a plentiful supply of water, unique in the dry Middle East.

C. Plant and Animal Life

The cedar tree that appears on Lebanon's national flag as the country's symbol once widely covered the Lebanon Mountains. However, only a few small stands remain in the mountains, where they are protected. The slopes now carry widespread Mediterranean brush vegetation, as well as scattered patches of stone pine, Aleppo pine, and ornamental cypress. Colorful spring wildflowers are abundant. During migration season, thousands of birds pass through the Bekáa. Few other wild animals are left in Lebanon.

D. Natural Resources 

Abundant water, productive soils, and extensively terraced slopes contribute to Lebanon's varied agriculture. The fertile soils of the coastal plain are alluvial, while the soils at higher elevations are a more typical example of the Mediterranean terra rossa, or red earth. Terra rossa is also prominent in the Bekáa. Only 30.1 percent of Lebanon is agricultural land, and 5 percent is forested. Limestone is widespread and quarried extensively, but there are few other mineral resources.

E. Environmental Issues

Environmental protection received minimal attention before the civil war ended in 1990. Since then the government has created a ministry of environment, which has taken measures to lessen the country's environmental damage. Among other problems, the ministry has addressed the severe pollution of Lebanon's coastal waters, caused by oil spills and the discharge of pesticides, fertilizers, and untreated industrial and human wastes. The ministry now requires more effective sewage systems in newly built areas; but many existing sites, including refugee camps and shantytowns (neighborhoods of small, crudely constructed dwellings), lack sewage disposal. In general the government gives environmental conservation and cleanup a lower priority than basic reconstruction projects.