Next week, on July 17, is the planned closure of the Naameh landfill and the end of Sukleen’s – the company in charge of municipal waste management in Beirut and Mount Lebanon – contract. Both the landfill and Sukleen’s contract were set to be terminated three months ago, but were extended because no other option was available.
It has been a year and seven months since the protestors forced the landfill to close, and seven months after the initial deadline that was set to appease the protestors. The promise was made along with a commitment to prepare a nationwide solid waste management plan. The framework for the new solid waste plan was a highly contentious issue in the cabinet and was finally agreed upon after a heated debate. The plan was to break Lebanon into six service areas, each to be serviced by a different company. The rationale behind the extensions of the landfill and service contract was that the government needed time to organize then new plans and issue tenders for management of the service areas.
The government has not made much progress in getting ready for the new solid waste management plan. The tender process has mostly failed because it did not attract enough bidders. In fact, no offer was submit for Service Area 1 (Beirut and its suburbs), the most populated out of the six. The main reason no offer was offered for Beirut was because of the difficulty in finding a location for a landfill, a responsibility that was placed on the shoulder of the private company to be awarded the service contract. Lebanon has limited space, and locations for landfills and incinerators have always been problematic. The Naameh landfill was never meant to operate for this long, it was initially supposed to be operational for 6 years, and it has now been operating for over 17 years. In 2006, the government tried to move the Naameh landfill to Jiyeh and create a new on in Jbeil, but this was rejected. In 2003, various towns around Lebanon rejected proposals by the government to move landfills to their areas. In the aftermath of the Naameh crisis a year and half ago, many towns also rejected offers for landfills to be built near them.
For over ten years, different Lebanese governments have not been able to find new locations. Now, after the whole country has witnessed the mismanagement of the Naameh landfill, finding a location is even more difficult. Given the landfill history, it seems that the new solid waste plan was doomed to failure from the beginning. In fact, even if the landfill site is extended further and a site has been found, it will be at least nine months for a new landfill to become operational.
It is unclear how this situation will develop, but every day that passes without action complicates matters further and leads to even more public distrust of the government’s ability to address the basic needs of the population it is meant to serve.