Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 19 September 2019

Lebanese politicians warn of imminent waste crisis in Beirut and beyond

The country’s environment minister compared the refuse crisis to a “civil war”.

Workers clean the beach of the coastal town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut, as garbage washed and piled along the shore after stormy weather, January 2018. AFP
Workers clean the beach of the coastal town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut, as garbage washed and piled along the shore after stormy weather, January 2018. AFP

Lebanese politicians have warned that rubbish could start piling up in the streets of Beirut again by early September, four years after demonstrations against a similar refuse crisis brought the country to a standstill.

“Beirut is threatened by a garbage crisis similar to what happened four years ago and left very bad memories for the Lebanese,” MP Marwan Hamadeh, who has occupied ministerial positions including Education Minister and Economy Minister over the past two decades, told The National on Wednesday.

Lebanon has relied on temporary solutions to process its waste since the end of the civil war in 1990. Over 900 illegal dumps have sprung up across the country and become major health hazards.

Mismanagement peaked in 2015 after the capital’s main landfill shut down. Permanent solutions were not found despite massive protests, and activists accuse politicians of corruption in sealing lucrative waste management deals.

In addition to environmental problems caused by the illegal dumps, their location regularly leads to sectarian disputes in a country where power-sharing is based on religious affiliation.

For the past five months, litter has been piling up in the streets of several towns in northern Lebanon after an informal dump closed for financial reasons.

Earlier this month, locals from the town of Terbol, which is dominated by Sunni Muslims, protested the opening of a new refuse centre because they did not want to accept waste coming from Christian villages in the region.

In parallel, Beirut’s landfills are close to saturation, and owners are threatening to stop accepting rubbish from areas where the population is of a different religion after September 1, said Mr Hamadeh.

“The same problem has been going on for years. Already existing environmental problems are exacerbated by additional confessional complications."

In a joint press conference with environment minister Fadi Jreissati on Tuesday, Mr Hamadeh requested that a council of ministers be convened rapidly to focus solely on the refuse crisis.

Mr Jreissati informed him later that afternoon that the council meeting will be held next Tuesday, Mr Hamadeh told The National.

Asked whether Beirut can be spared a new garbage crisis, Mr Hamadeh said he was unsure. “We have signed all the necessary laws in the past, but nobody applies them,” he said.

On Tuesday, Mr Jreissati compared Lebanon’s inability to process its waste to a “civil war” which could potentially “destroy” Lebanon’s tourism sector and more broadly, its economy. Tourism is one of the main drivers of the economy in the small country, which boasts 225 kilometres of coastline on the Mediterranean Sea and snow-capped mountains.

“There is no tourism, health or agriculture if we do not deal with the waste problem,” Mr Jreissati said during the press conference, the state-run National News Agency reported.

“I say that the issue of waste is more important than the economic crisis which politicians and executive authorities have given such importance to. The Environment Ministry submitted a plan on June 3 which has not yet been approved,” he complained.

The minister’s plan includes setting up 25 landfills across the country to replace the illegal dumps.

Formed late January, the latest government vowed to implement quick reforms to clean up the country’s finances but has been paralysed by infighting.

On Thursday, the cabinet will meet for the second time since politicians resumed contact on August 9 after a deadly shoot-out that involved a junior minister paralysed it for 40 days.

Updated: August 21, 2019 07:43 PM

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