UNRWA’s en­vi­ron­men­tal health train­ing takes on waste cri­sis

The Daily Star (Lebanon) - - LEBANON - By Maria Rada-Soto

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.

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