Lebanon’s main obstacle in protecting the environment is its inability to enforce laws and prosecute violators. There is also an absence of a comprehensive environmental legal framework that can fully protect the local environment. Before 2002, the few existing pieces of legislation aimed at safeguarding the environment had been passed during the French mandate. In 2002, a major step was taken in with the issuance of Environment Protection Law No. 444, consisting of 11 environmental principles and forming the basis for an environmental legal framework in Lebanon. In order for it to become enforceable, many follow-up application decrees were required, some of which were passed, such as the decree requiring environmental impact assessment, while many more await adoption.
Article 24 of Law 444 prohibits the use of any type of machinery that emits air pollutants, nuisance odors and harmful gases beyond the maximum allowable limit. However, national ambient air quality standards are yet to be determined in Lebanon. Decision 8/1 issued in 2001 limits stack emissions and effluent discharges from certain establishments such as wastewater treatment plants, hospitals, power plants and generators, cement, glass, aluminum, batteries and agro-foods industries and incinerators. Other establishments are not included in this decision and are therefore not bound by its provisions.
The lack of standards has resulted in widespread pollution across Lebanon. For example, the Naameh landfill was allowed to operate over capacity causing pollution to the surrounding area. Factories pollute water resources and a peat factory in Koura is emitting pollutants that are affecting nearby residential areas. Despite the existence of air quality standards for emissions from power plants and generators (Decision 8/1), the Chouf town of Barja still suffers from pollution resulting from the Jiyyeh power plant. During a power outage, a strong smell of burnt diesel from private generators is prevalent throughout the city. There is evidence that the number of patients diagnosed with cancer in Lebanon is directly proportional to the increase of air pollution.
There is a huge responsibility on the government to pass these standards and provide a proper enforcement mechanism to control this problem. The public and civil society sector also bear part of the responsibility for creating pressure and demanding swift and long-lasting action.