Politics keep Lebanon from taking out the trash

Article Summary
The Lebanese Cabinet failed to reach solutions to the waste crisis in Lebanon, mainly in Mount Lebanon, where garbage is threatening to contaminate underground water.

It is true that the Lebanese Cabinet on July 30 discussed the issue of garbage, but the debate turned out to be mere statements and declarations of ideas and intentions instead of dealing with the nexus of the crisis and reaching solutions. Any solution in this regard ought to be based on declaring a state of emergency and forming a crisis management group to opt for the least harmful choices, until the previous Cabinet’s decisions and resulting bids are reconsidered.

The meeting reached a deadlock as many continued to put their foot down, banking on bids and extending them more than once to no avail. Meanwhile, the other camp kept blaming the other party for not coming up with any solution to the garbage crisis, to the detriment of the general interest, threatening the ecological safety and underground waters of the entire country, as is happening right now.

It is true that the concerned ministerial committee that convened yesterday did not reach any solution and kept its options open, but the outcome is clear: No party dares to adopt any proposal for finding a solution.

An important step was made yesterday as Sukleen removed garbage from the capital’s streets, suburbs and some sporadic municipalities. The waste, until the night of July 30, amounted to more than 8,000 tons. However, it remains clear to everyone that this measure is only temporary as the dumping sites would only accommodate garbage for days, not months. This is especially true for the Karantina site, where no one objected to this measure except for the owners of the neighboring Bakalian mill.

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Health Minister Wael Abu Faour was swift to check the Karantina dumping site, stressing that “there is no threat to the wheat and flour in the near term,” and that “the Sukleen company has taken additional measures to mitigate the harm on the surrounding [areas]. All measures have been agreed upon by the owners of the mills in agreement with the observers from the Ministry of Health.”

For its part, the municipality of Beirut declared that it had requested the Cabinet, through Minister of Interior Nouhad Machnouk, the permission to transport the capital’s garbage outside.

As-Safir asked Bilal Hamad, the head of the municipality, if the proposal has been carefully studied. “We had to come up with immediate alternative solutions given the gravity of the crisis. I heard this proposal from the Ministry of Environment, which he also proposed to the ministerial committee,” stressing that “the municipality will study it carefully tomorrow as the current dumping places will be soon filled to capacity without any prospect of a solution outside Beirut.”

Meanwhile, most of the areas in Mount Lebanon face a stalemate as the people are irresolute about keeping the garbage to fill up streets and neighborhoods or to randomly dispose of it in valleys and rivers.

The tug-of-war continued between politicians, parliamentary blocs and the general political elite, which failed to find solutions and found themselves in a predicament that they cannot get out of. In fact, none of the political parties that have representative capacity dare to designate areas for landfills and waste treatment, as they are aware that the vast majority of the neighboring areas' people would object, given the political and non-political differences.

In contrast, the Ministry of Environment and the concerned ministerial committee are calling for a political cover by these parties.

If a political party agrees to a solution, its rival in the same area would swiftly object to depict itself as a savior and a protector of the environment and vice versa. Some parties would approve a solution only to change their minds the next day.

It seems that the Ministry of Environment is not part of the crisis management as it has yet to set forth environmental standards to test areas for landfills. The ministry has merely issued statements about areas and regions that have been destroyed by crushers. However, it should be noted that the vegetation of the areas that were destroyed by crushers are mostly not fit for landfills, especially at 300 meters above sea level and more.

None of the politicians have volunteered to find plausible solutions to the crisis or to agree upon them. Thus, the available options ought to be considered, especially in the Mount Lebanon area.

According to a poll conducted by As-Safir July 30 to gauge the opinions of the some party leaders and political movements in the northern Metn, political parties will not stand against the will of the people and municipalities that refuse the suggested dumping sites in Abu Mizan, Dahr al-Baydar or any other proposed site to dispose of waste.

This means that in the foreseeable future, garbage will remain in the streets or will be randomly disposed of in valleys as is the case right now. The crisis will either get bigger and become a serious catastrophe, or the state will have to actually recognize the magnitude of the disaster.


Parliament member Walid Jumblatt tweeted yesterday: "I suggest allocating different landfills for each sect and religion for instance, in addition to landfills for the different political parties. Perhaps, according to the latest scientific studies, there is a difference between an Islamic Pepsi Cola can and another Christian one; that is why there are 18 different types of Pepsi Cola." Former member of parliament Fares Saeed tweeted back: "I suggest to have landfills based on blood type as it is more accurate. This way we could preserve coexistence."

For his part, Samir Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces, tweeted: “The waste crisis will not pass without accountability. It is not acceptable by any standards to have landfills at an altitude of over 1,000 meters, as this would contaminate our underground water and pose a threat to the health of Christians.”

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Found in: sectarian tensions, sectarian politics, sectarian conflict in lebanon, sanitation, lebanon, lebanese politics, infrastructure
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