Le­banon cab­i­net meets un­der pres­sure from trash demos

The China Post - - INTERNATIONAL - BY SARA HUS­SEIN

Le­banon’s cab­i­net met Tues­day to dis­cuss the coun­try’s waste cri­sis af­ter week­end protests that be­gan in re­sponse to the prob­lem of un­col­lected trash evolved into calls for the gov­ern­ment’s res­ig­na­tion.

The cab­i­net meet­ing is the first since the demon­stra­tions that brought thou­sands of peo­ple into cen­tral Beirut to de­cry gov­ern­ment im­po­tence.

The ses­sion, headed by Prime Min­is­ter Tam­mam Salam, is in­tended to dis­cuss award­ing new con­tracts for rub­bish col­lec­tion across the coun­try, in­clud­ing in the cap­i­tal and its sur­round­ings.

But ahead of the meet­ing, min­is­ters ex­pressed doubts about the costs of the new con­tracts, and it was un­clear whether the cab­i­net, which has been dead­locked by po­lit­i­cal dis­putes for months, would be able to take any de­ci­sions.

Thou­sands of protesters took to the streets on Satur­day and Sun­day for demon­stra­tions or­ga­nized by the “You stink” cam­paign.

The protests were sparked by a col­lec­tion cri­sis that saw garbage pile up in Beirut and be­yond.

The demon­stra­tions have now evolved into an out­let for deep­rooted, broad-based frus­tra­tion over po­lit­i­cal stag­na­tion, cor­rup­tion and crum­bling in­fra­struc­ture.

Over the week­end, Salam ac­knowl­edged protesters’ frus­tra­tions and warned that his gov­ern­ment risked be­com­ing ir­rel­e­vant if it can­not ad­dress the public’s con­cerns.

‘Head­ing to­wards col­lapse’

“We’re head­ing to­wards col­lapse if things con­tinue as they are,” he cau­tioned.

But it was un­clear whether Tues­day’s cab­i­net ses­sion could solve the prob­lems that brought protesters out for a rare dis­play of non-sec­tar­ian anger on a so­cial is­sue.

The 18-month old gov­ern­ment will dis­cuss a list an­nounced on Mon­day of com­pa­nies that have qual­i­fied for waste re­moval con­tracts across Le­banon.

The list, an­nounced by Envi- ron­ment Min­is­ter Mo­hammed Mash­nuq, quickly drew fire from ac­tivists who said the com­pa­nies were tied to a range of in­flu­en­tial po­lit­i­cal fig­ures and would charge ex­or­bi­tant prices.

Sev­eral cab­i­net min­is­ters have also crit­i­cized the col­lec­tion costs.

Le­banon al­ready pays some of the world’s high­est per-ton waste col­lec­tion rates, and lo­cal media said the com­pa­nies rec­om­mended for the new con­tracts were set to raises prices even more.

The core of the cri­sis, which erupted af­ter the clo­sure of the land­fill serv­ing Beirut and its sur­round­ings, also re­mains un­ad­dressed.

When the Naameh land­fill closed on July 17, the gov­ern­ment failed to iden­tify sites for new land­fills or al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ments.

In the ab­sence of a so­lu­tion, trash be­gan piling up on the streets, un­til lo­cal mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties started find­ing tem­po­rary so­lu­tions — dump­ing in empty lots, river beds and even val­leys.

Mash­nuq on Mon­day re­fused to be drawn on where the trash could go.

Lo­cal media said that even if a so­lu­tion was found, it could take up to six months for new con­trac­tors to be­gin col­lect­ing and dis­pos­ing of Beirut’s waste.

AP

Le­banese women have their pic­ture taken in front a con­crete wall in­stalled by author­i­ties near the main Le­banese gov­ern­ment build­ing, in down­town Beirut, Le­banon, Tues­day, Aug. 25.

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