The Daily Star (Lebanon)
Dumping trash at sea part of the plan: Khatib
Environment minister points finger at CDR for Mediterranean pollution
BEIRUT: Analysts and officials Tuesday warned of the environmental impact of Burj Hammoud’s growing garbage mountain as the environment minister insisted his ministry was fulfilling its duties, blaming the Council for Development and Reconstruction for any environmental violations.
“The contract between the contractor and the Council for Development and Reconstruction stipulates that trash from this [Burj Hammoud] landfill would be disposed of at sea [in the process of land reclamation],” Environment Minister Tarek Khatib said during a visit to the dump, according to the state-run National News Agency.
Khatib stressed that the issue was beyond his ministry’s control, insisting that he had informed CDR of the environmental transgressions.
Local residents have complained of the foul stench from the garbage mountain and fishermen have warned that they are at risk of losing their livelihoods due to the pollution.
“The issue of providing compensation to the fisherman is not the prerogative of the Environment Ministry,” Khatib said. “[This issue] rather needs a specific mechanism and I will be communicating with the Metn MPs, the Cabinet and the prime minister to look into the possibility of providing compensation.”
Khatib was unavailable when contacted by The Daily Star for clarification of his comments, as were a number of Metn MPs.
Lebanon Eco Movement, an environmental group, recently shared a video in which a fisherman reported that trash was getting caught in nets, supposedly having been swept from the landfill into the sea. The video also showed visitors to City Mall in Dora, east of Beirut, complaining of intense odors attributed to the new landfill in nearby Burj Hammoud.
Khatib’s visit to the site followed claims circulated online that the garbage was not being properly sorted at the new landfill. “The ministry has fulfilled its duties,” Khatib said.
In June 2016, the CDR announced that it had granted a company authorization to start work on the landfill.
The presence of both a historic dump site and a new temporary trash site in the Burj Hammoud area has concerned local residents and environmental activists, who have long claimed that the presence of the garbage mountain contributes to increased water pollution.
The old Burj Hammoud landfill, known locally as the “garbage mountain,” began as an informal dump site during the Civil War, and became an official landfill after the conflict, closing in 1997.
In 1978, Lebanon ratified the initial phase of the Barcelona Convention for the protection of the marine environment and coastal region of the Mediterranean. In 1994, Parliament also ratified a portion of the treaty that explicitly prevents countries from dumping their waste at sea.
“The repercussions are enormous,” Najat Saliba, professor of analytical chemistry at the American University of Beirut, told The Daily Star. “The main important things are the sea life, especially because when you dump a lot of chemicals and biological components, like toxic waste, these will take up all the oxygen from the water, meaning the life in the sea will be deprived of oxygen.”
Saliba continued: “This can also increase the levels of nitrates in the sea and this will increase eutrophication, which means that you will have a lot of microorganisms living on the top of the water,” which means the regular functioning of the ecosystem is no longer viable.
Former Environment Minister Akram Chehayeb blasted the government Tuesday, saying the state is not doing enough when it comes to waste management policies.
“I think we are heading toward a big problem in 2018,” Chehayeb told The Daily Star. “The president says he is looking into a plan, the Cabinet says it has a plan and the environment minister says he has a plan, but none of them are actually doing anything.”
Chehayeb was the principal architect of the state-led solution to the garbage crisis that gripped Lebanon for most of 2015.
“[Prime Minister Saad] Hariri said that we will be using waste-toenergy incinerators, and this is a good thing,” Chehayeb said. “But this takes four years to implement, and we don’t have any plan in the meantime.” The former minister said the best solution is the “policies we had set out in the first place.”
“We need to find landfill [sites] outside Beirut … and in the eastern mountain range,” Chehayeb said. “They would need seven months [to be established] and this would coincide with the end of the [life] of the Costa Brava landfill.”
But the minister was pessimistic. “I am confident we are heading toward a crisis. … No one cares about waste treatment policies, they just care about that preferential vote.”