UNRWA’s environmental health training takes on waste crisis
BEIRUT: For the first time in Lebanon, a comprehensive training on integrated environmental health aimed at both the public and private sectors is underway in Beirut, spearheaded by the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA).
By the time it ends, the training, run by UNRWA in partnership with the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education and in coordination with the Environment Ministry, will have reached around 60 individuals drawn from the private sector as well as from UNRWA, the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR), the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the Environment Ministry and the Council for Development and Reconstruction.
The first module of the program, on sanitation and integrated waste management, took place daily this week at the Gefinor Rotana hotel in Beirut, while the second module, on integrated water resource management, will run from Oct. 9 to Oct. 13 at the same location. Both modules will complement a course on solar pumping, co-organized by UNRWA and the Lebanese Center for Energy Conservation, which was conducted on Sept. 6 and Sept. 7 by the German company Lorentz.
This new training initiative, tailored to the specific environmental challenges faced by Lebanon, aims to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of environmental health. Bringing together U.N. agencies and the private and public sectors, the training aims to facilitate debate between the different stakeholders.
“We all need to work hand in hand,” Sabine Ghosn, head of the Environment Ministry’s urban pollution control department, told The Daily Star. Ghosn said that beyond the ministry playing a major role in addressing Lebanon’s waste management crisis, the issue requires the attention of the government as a whole, as well as input from the public sector, academics and civil society.
The training provides not only information and know-how but also, crucially, awareness. Aside from political interference and scarce resources, the disinterest of the public in environmental matters is a major challenge, Ghosn said. “To get the acceptance of civil society, we need to raise awareness. These types of events are very useful for that.”
The training is aligned with the government’s vision, but has been adapted to take into account the resources available to municipalities. This coordination with the municipalities is significant for the refugee camps in the country. “Each camp is part of a certain municipality and we have to work in full coordination with them,” Ahmad Abdullah, an UNRWA engineer with the agency’s Camp Improvement and Infrastructure Program, told The Daily Star.
“We are in great need of such sessions,” Abdullah said. “Before these trainings, we had the ideas; now we have the material.” The main challenge the camps face is securing access to potable water, he said.
Thursday’s program, which dealt with issues of biological treatment – such as composting – as well as medical waste, toxic waste, slaughterhouse waste and demolition and construction waste management, was of special relevance for Lebanon.
“Waste is a resource if it is wellmanaged,” Eric van Hullebusch, environmental science professor at the Institute for Water Education IHE Delft and a speaker at Thursday’s session, told The Daily Star. From waste, bioenergy and value-added products such as compost can be generated, he explained. “There is huge potential,” Hullebusch added. “Especially in Lebanon, considering that more than 60 percent of [the country’s] municipal solid waste is organic.”
For the environmental systems outlined in the training to go into effect, a legal framework will be necessary, Ghosn said. But legislative change is a slow process: The Integrated Solid Waste Management Law has not yet been approved by Parliament. “The political situation of the country is stopping the approval of a major law,” she said.
The program’s first module was on sanitation and integrated waste management.