Lebanon’s solid waste plan: too little, too late?

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Source: Al Akhbar

On Monday, the Lebanese Cabinet approved a three month extension of the Na’ameh landfill, renewable for an additional three months, and the extension of two contracts for private companies managing solid waste. The first company is Sukleen who is responsible for sweeping and cleaning the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon and transferring the waste to a treatment center in Burj Hammoud. The second company, Sukomi, treats the waste and transfers it to the Na’ameh landfill. The cabinet approval comes 5 days before the government set deadline for the closure of the landfill; it became evident in the months leading up to the deadline that there were sharp divisions and the government would not be able to close the landfill.

During the period of the extension the government will prepare and organize the new solid waste management plan which aims at decentralizing solid waste management in the country. Lebanon will be split into the following districts: Beirut and its suburbs, the north and Akkar, the south and Nabatieh, the Bekaa Valley and Baalbek-Hermel, Baabda, Chouf, Aley and Jbeil, and Metn and Kesrouan. The Cabinet will set the regulations for street sweeping, garbage collection and landfills and will open tendering for solid waste management in each of the districts within two months.

It seems that the two options that the government is considering after the extension are landfills or incinerators. The problem with these two options is finding an acceptable location. Many municipalities around Lebanon have rejected to host landfills because they are all worried that what happened to Na’ameh will happen in their town. Incinerators also face a similar problem as no town will want an incinerator to be located near them. The plan proposes that successful contractors will be responsible for securing a landfill location in each region. If they fail to find an acceptable location, the Ministry of Environment and Council of Development and Reconstruction will find a location at the expense of the contractor.

This issue had caused a dispute in cabinet with the Kataeb Party staunchly opposing the plan. The party declared that the tendering process needed to be more transparent and was also critical of the manner in which the areas where divided. They also rejected the idea that contractors, not the government, would select the location of the landfills and incinerators. The government claims that all the party’s reservations had been addressed in the new plan and has thus been approved.

However, despite political consensus, the Na’ameh residents are yet to be appeased. The town’s mayor has already vowed to fight the extension by blocking the road as soon as the promised deadline expires. The extension does not address the concerns of the Na’ameh residents who last year closed the road preventing waste to be delivered to the landfill causing an overflow of garbage in Beirut and Mount Lebanon. Walid Joumblatt who played a role in negotiating with protestors to suspend their protest last year had declared last week his intention to close the road leading to the Na’ameh landfill. He has not commented after the Cabinet decision.

The Lebanon Eco Movement has been critical of the proposed plan and has argued that it reinforces monopoly and limits the influence and role of municipalities (by law municipalities are in charge of solid waste management). On Monday they released a statement claiming that the government could have committed itself from the beginning not to renew the contract and operation of the landfill and find a feasible and sustainable solution. The movement stated that the landfills and incinerator plans and the limited role of municipalities is unacceptable and will be rejected by the citizens. The solid waste crisis is far from over, and there is a high possibility by the beginning of next week that the Na’ameh site will be blocked, understandably, by the nearby residents and that trash will overflow in the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon once again.

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