Le­banon needs to clean up its act

Executive Magazine - - Contents -

The coun­try lacks a long-term waste man­age­ment strat­egy

Le­banon is once again star­ing down a waste man­age­ment cri­sis, with news that the Costa Brava and Bourj Ham­moud land­fills will reach ca­pac­ity in 2018—two years be­fore the gov­ern­ment’s ini­tial es­ti­mate of 2020. In re­sponse, the cabi­net is re­port­edly con­sid­er­ing a pro­posal to re­open the in­fa­mous Naameh land­fill, whose clo­sure in 2015 sparked a cri­sis that left garbage pil­ing up in the streets of Beirut.

The gov­ern­ment adopted a tem­po­rary fix to the cri­sis in March 2016, when it be­gan dump­ing waste from Beirut and Mount Le­banon into the two new coastal land­fills. Now that these land­fills are fill­ing up faster than ex­pected, the gov­ern­ment is dis­cussing yet an­other emer­gency so­lu­tion.

The waste man­age­ment prob­lem was never ac­tu­ally solved— the gov­ern­ment just pushed the garbage out of sight. The 2016 “fix” was just an­other short- term emer­gency mea­sure, the lat­est in a string of emer­gency plans adopted af­ter the end of the civil war in 1990.

The new land­fills have been plagued by con­tro­versy and law­suits since their in­cep­tion. The Min­istry of En­vi­ron­ment says that nei­ther land­fill had an en­vi­ron­men­tal im­pact as­sess­ment, so it re­mains un­clear what ef­fect they will have on peo­ple liv­ing nearby. Garbage at the Costa Brava site, which is lo­cated near the air­port, at­tracts birds that have be­come a threat to planes, and there­fore, pub­lic safety. At the Bourj Ham­moud land­fill, videos show trucks dump­ing garbage into the sea, and lo­cal fish­er­men have protested the amount of garbage they are now catch­ing in their nets.

Mean­while, out­side of Beirut and Mount Le­banon, the sit­u­a­tion is even worse, but gets far less at­ten­tion.

Le­banon’s garbage cri­sis didn’t re­ally start in 2015— that’s just the year it reached Beirut and Mount Le­banon; the wealth­ier parts of the coun­try.

Le­banon has never had a com­pre­hen­sive waste man­age­ment sys­tem that cov­ers the en­tire coun­try. The cen­tral gov­ern­ment con­tracted two com­pa­nies, Suk­leen and Sukomi, to man­age solid waste for most of Beirut and Mount Le­banon un­der a 1997 emer­gency plan, but mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties in the rest of the coun­try have been left largely to their own de­vices, with­out the re­sources or ex­per­tise to ad­e­quately man­age their waste.

A forth­com­ing report from Hu­man Rights Watch out­lines the health im­pli­ca­tions of openly burn­ing waste. Over the course of my re­search for the report, I’ve spo­ken with fam­i­lies who live close to open dumps that have burned con­tin­u­ously for years. Many have told me they have res­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses, that the smoke has at times driven them from their homes, and that they live in con­stant fear of a long- term health im­pact on them and their chil­dren. Doc­tors treat­ing these res­i­dents say they be­lieve burn­ing trash was the cause of their res­pi­ra­tory ill­nesses, and that it could take years for its long- term ef­fects to be­come clear— in­clud­ing, for ex­am­ple, on the in­ci­dence of can­cer. And re­searchers at the Amer­i­can Uni­ver­sity of Beirut found that burn­ing waste dur­ing the 2015 cri­sis re­leased dan­ger­ous par­ti­cles in Beirut and Mount Le­banon, with po­ten­tially se­vere health ef­fects.

Waste- burn­ing and the garbage cri­sis are symp­toms of a larger prob­lem in Le­banon: a decades- old fail­ure to de­velop and carry out a long- term na­tional waste man­age­ment plan that is based on pub­lichealth prin­ci­ples and is en­vi­ron­men­tally sound.

For­tu­nately, un­like some of the other chal­lenges fac­ing Le­banon, there are clear so­lu­tions to waste man­age­ment: About 90 per­cent of Le­banon’s solid waste is made up of ma­te­ri­als that could be com­posted or re­cy­cled. How­ever, at the mo­ment only 8 per­cent is be­ing re­cy­cled and 15 per­cent com­posted. The rest is be­ing land­filled, dumped, or burned; the gov­ern­ment has not even taken the ba­sic step of pro­vid­ing a con­ve­nient re­cy­cling op­tion in Beirut.

Re­searchers have al­ready put to­gether pro­pos­als for a sus­tain­able solid- waste man­age­ment plan, in­formed by pub­lic- health prin­ci­ples. And en­vi­ron­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions such as Cedar En­vi­ron­men­tal and Terre Liban have al­ready shown that it is pos­si­ble to ap­ply sus­tain­able waste man­age­ment prac­tices in Le­banon.

With yet an­other cri­sis loom­ing, the gov­ern­ment ur­gently needs to end its re­liance on short- term emer­gency plans. It should fi­nally adopt a sus­tain­able so­lu­tion that re­spects the health and en­vi­ron­men­tal rights of its cit­i­zens.

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