Will Lebanon solve its trash crisis?

With trash piling up in the streets for weeks and landfills overflowing, the country needs a solution soon.

al-monitor Residents set uncollected garbage on fire in Beirut, Lebanon, July 25, 2015. The stench of uncollected refuse in the streets of Beirut is a stark reminder of the crisis of government afflicting Lebanon, where politicians divided by local and regional conflicts have been unable to agree on where to dump the capital's garbage.  Photo by REUTERS/Aziz Taher.

Topics covered

tammam salam, presidential election, phalangists, lebanon crisis, lebanon, environmental issues, environment, beirut

Jul 27, 2015

Despite the political calls that Prime Minister Tammam Salam and Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk made to find a quick solution to the trash crisis in the streets, solutions are still in their early stages. On Sunday [July 26], a new sign that showed the failure of traditional ways to find solutions appeared. Influential political forces were unable to convince their public bases of what they had agreed on.

Under the current urgent circumstances, it seems there is no use in hastening the revelation of sites for new temporary landfills, especially with the escalating crisis in the streets, on the one hand, and the people’s fear that the selected sites would become permanent, on the other.

These controversies were the subject of official calls that took place in the past two days to find temporary dumps and prompted public protests — either to urge a solution for the unbearable crisis, or to object to the suggested landfill sites.

Unfortunately for the inhabitants of garbage-ridden regions, the crisis coincided with a flaming heat wave where the organic material in the trash triggered an increased stench in the air. It is noteworthy that Sukleen workers had taken quick measures since the first day of the crisis by continuing the sweeping up and collection of garbage near bins and spraying pesticides and lime powder to reduce the spread of diseases.

It looks like the political agreement that was concluded Sunday to move the waste, in the form of compressed piles, from the Sukleen factories to a temporary landfill in Lebanon’s Sibleen was foiled after the inhabitants blocked the roads to obstruct the loaded trucks. Sukleen had started collecting the garbage from Beirut and moving it to factories. Meanwhile, the southern suburb’s trash was temporarily moved to a site in that area.

In light of contradictory information, the fate of garbage treatment negotiations for the Metn and Kesserwan regions seemed unclear; they had been taking place between the Metn Municipality Federation, the municipalities, the head of the Phalangist Party and the environment minister.

Some stressed that it is the Ministry of Environment’s duty to choose sites. However, no sites have been selected as of yet. Meanwhile, some said that some sites have indeed been selected, but that the process takes some time. Others stressed that the parties in charge are avoiding naming the sites for public relations reasons, while some municipalities began to find temporary solutions for their waste, as is the case in some mountain areas.

Thus, it is safe to conclude that the crisis is deepening and that the options are limited to a choice between what is bad and what is worse; what is serious and what is more serious. Random solutions aimed at transferring waste as is to any place are serious at all levels. What is more serious, however, under the current conditions plaguing Lebanon and the absence of responsible authorities who enjoy a minimum level of harmony, is for the waste to keep piling up in the streets and residential neighborhoods while causing social, zonal and sectarian sedition, as well as serious health and environmental damage.

In between these two extremes, some argue that the only solution to the crisis — which is becoming increasingly complicated by the day — is for the prime minister to call for the formation of a crisis group that includes relevant ministries and representatives of political forces inside and outside the government, unions of the concerned municipalities, civil society organizations that are following the issue and unbiased experts.

This could help develop a temporary plan to solve the problem and could lead to strategic ideas and urgent action — such as taking decisions to impose taxes on some materials and starting a sorting process that from the beginning would reduce waste sent to laboratories or to selected sites. This would also help municipalities or companies that can comply with these solutions to try to break the vicious cycle of the increasing waste and people's fear and lack of confidence [in the government]. This way, the pool of the responsible parties could be expanded through their participation in finding solutions.

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