The Proposed Solution
On September 9, the Lebanese Cabinet finally approved a plan to end the garbage crisis in Lebanon. The plan consists of the following steps:
- Reopening the Naameh Landfill for seven days to transport all the waste that has accumulated in Beirut and Mount Lebanon for the past two months
- Extend Sukleen’s contract (only for garbage collecting) for 18 months
- Send waste to the Saida Treatment Facility during the transitional phase
- Upgrade a garbage dump in Akkar town of Srar to a sanitary landfill (to be used for 18 months)
- Create a landfill in the Bekaa town of Masnaa (to be used for 18 months)
- Commission the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) and the Ministry of Environment to perform the required studies for the Ras Al Ain dump in Tyre
- Upgrade and rehabilitate the garbage dump in BurjHammoud to a sanitary landfill
- A long term plan to decentralize the waste management.
A proper solution to the garbage crisis would have to contain a short term and long term plan, and this plan covers the two. Since the closure of the Naameh landfill, garbage has been dumped in various areas around the country. The Minister of Health, Wael Abu Faour, has warned that the country is on the brink of a major health crisis if no solution is found, especially when the winter season arrives. If the waste is not cleaned up when it rains, various water resources will be polluted which could lead to an outbreak of a number of waterborne diseases.
The Short-Term Plan
It is a positive step that the agreed plan includes a cleanup of all the improperly disposed trash. However, there are many problematic issues with this plan. It is unclear how it will take only seven days to collect 2 months of trash and transfer them to Naanmeh. In addition, Naameh residents who protested and fought to close the Naameh landfill do not accept its reopening. On Wednesday, thousands took to the streets of Beirut to protest the government handling of the government crisis, voicing their objection to reopening the landfill. As expected, as news of the plan came out yesterday, residents of the Naameh region protested rejecting reopening the landfill.
Unfortunately, the short term plan alternatives are very limited. The best option would be to sort the accumulated waste to reduce the amount that needs to be land filled. Such proposals need to be considered, and the government needs to show it is working on it. The reopening of the Naameh landfill should be the last resort.
In addition to Naameh, protests erupted in all areas where the government plans to send waste under the new plan. The government specified the Saida waste treatment facility as part of the transitional plan, and this has worried the residents of Sidon because of town’s history in waste management. For years Sidon hosted a large mountain of trash that had a severe impact to the surrounding environment. Last year the mountain was removed by the Ministry of Environment in a UNDP sponsored project; the prospect of receiving trash from Beirut and Mount Lebanon, even if on a temporary basis, has the residents worried that the infamous “garbage mountain” will return. This is not a far-fetched scenario as “temporary solutions” in Lebanon have often ended up lasting for over a decade. The Mayor of Sidon declared that Sidon will accept a limited amount of additional waste from outside the area only if a new sanitary landfill is established.
The Next 18 months
In order to appease the residents of Akkar and Bekaa who are opposed to hosting a landfill in their areas, the government decided to invest $100 million for development of both regions. Residents of Akkar have already rejected the proposal and criticized the government for linking development of the region with accepting waste from another area. Both the Akkar and the Bekaa have a high poverty rate, such that Akkar’s is the highest in the country, over 60%. In addition, both regions host a high number of refugees; over 400,000 in Bekaa and over 100,000 thousand in Akkar. These areas should have been receiving investment and development funding a long time ago and without prior conditions.
The Long-Term Plan
Another ambiguous issue is related to the long-term plan. Solid waste management should be in the hands of the municipality but is vague how this will be carried out. The government plans to transfer waste management responsibilities to the municipalities after both new landfills (in Akkar and the Bekaa) supposedly expire in 18 months. It is unclear how this will be undertaken, what conditions municipalities will have to abide by, the role of central government, which stakeholders will be involved and other issues related to this transfer. The only issue that was publicized was financial, such that funds owed to the municipalities from the Independent Municipal Fund will be transferred back to them.
It is clear that lack of proper long term planning and vision is what brought the country to this mess. Instead of trying to develop and implement a long-term sustainable plan in 1997, the government kept implementing an emergency plan that drained the country’s funds and eventually created the Naameh landfill crisis. The story is similar in the provision of other services such as electricity and water. Now is the chance to get things right in the waste sector. Municipalities need to be enabled and empowered to manage their own waste in an environmentally sustainable manner, and the government need to step back from day-to-day management and monitor the situation to make sure another crisis does not occur. This is where the Ministry of Environment’s role will be critical, especially with support from the civil society sector and environmental experts.