Ever since the public protests in Naameh in January 2014, the Lebanese government has been trying to secure a new location for Beirut and Mount Lebanon’s waste in order to meet their self-imposed deadline for the closure on January 2015. The deadline was extended for three months, twice, and no location was found. Since January 2014, there have been rumors of new landfills in different areas of the country, and this was met with protests all over the country. In December 2014, residents and local organizations of the southern towns of Ekleem El Kharoub protested government plans to dump the waste near them. During that same month, residents of Chouf also protested similar proposals.
Since the closure of the Naameh landfill two weeks ago, protests against government plans to dump waste in different areas have intensified, leading to the blocking of major roads and highways. Last weekend, residents of the towns of Ekleem El Kharouib blocked the highway leading to the South for 24 hours after finding trucks transporting waste to their towns. Ain Dara residents blocked Dahr al Baydar over reports that Beirut’s garbage will be transferred near them. Residents of Beirut blocked roads with burning trash overflowing from their bins due to the halting in collection and activists held protests against the accumulation of garbage leading to the arrest of four activists.
Amid all this chaos the government has still not been able to find a long-term solution for the waste problem in the country. A temporary solution was announced earlier this week: to transport waste to various areas around the country. The government has not disclosed all the different locations where waste will be temporarily dumped but reports indicate that one of them is the Karantina area in Beirut where a treatment facility exists. However, according to the Mayor of Beirut, this location only has the capacity to accept waste for 10 days. Other municipalities have been throwing their trash near the airport, resulting in fires and jeopardizing aviation safety. Pictures on social media have circulated of trash being disposed illegally and being burnt.
It is safe to conclude that the government’s handling of this situation has been disastrous. Petty disputes amongst Lebanon’s political class have resulted in a public sector that is unable to provide basic services to its citizens. The government had over a year to propose a new waste disposal plan, consult with the public and obtain consensus on how to deal with this inevitable crisis. However, there are no signs that any of this was done. In fact, the secrecy surrounding the new locations for the temporary disposal of the waste clearly indicate that public engagement is the last thing on the government’s list of priorities when these decisions are being made. Decree 8633, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Law, requires that an EIA to be conducted for any planned solid waste management facility and as part of this process, public consultation is key. If the government followed their own laws, which they had plenty of time to do, maybe we could have avoided the war images we are now enduring.