The demise of Lebanon’s garbage export plan

Source: VOA News

Two months since the government agreed to export Lebanon’s waste, seven months since the start of the waste crisis, and nothing has been resolved. The majority of Beirut and Mount Lebanon’s waste is still being disposed in makeshift dumpsites around the country. The demonstrations that were sparked by this crisis have all but died out, and as each day passes with no solution, the potential environmental and public health catastrophes will start to become a reality.

On December 21, 2015 the Lebanese cabinet approved a garbage exporting plan after a six hour closed meeting. Little information was disclosed at this point and the entire process was undertaken in secrecy. A few weeks later it was reported that the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) was about to sign the export contracts with a Dutch and English firm, Howa BV and Chinook Urban Mining International, even though there is nothing in its mandate to justify this role. The selection process was anything but transparent; unanswered questions, important information such as the destination of the waste, and even the price of the contracts were not divulged to the Lebanese public.

However, the plan faced hurdles as time passed and it became evident that even the policy makers may have not been in the know on some of the details. For example, Lebanese media reported on January 9 that Sierra Leone was one of the designated countries to receive Lebanon’s waste. This news caused an outcry in Sierra Leone and a report published by Al Monitor alleges that Howa falsified reports that Sierra Leone would accept Lebanon’s waste. Howa ended up withdrawing after failing to deposit a $US 2.5 million guarantee to the Lebanese government.

By the end of January, the Head of CDR, Nabil Al Jisr, claimed that Chinook Urban Mining International received the approval from the Russian authorities to receive Lebanon’s trash. However, a Russian official stated that the waste export documents they have received were forged. Following these allegations the Lebanese government gave Chinook Urban Mining International a 48 hour deadline to submit the proper paperwork.

Despite these allegations and the deadline, Prime Minister Tammam Salam denied foul play yesterday and claimed these accusations are “baseless reports.” However, the 48 hour deadline passed and Chinook Urban Mining International failed to submit the proper paperwork and the trash deal was cancelled (which means Chinook forfeits the $US 2.5 million they deposited with the Lebanese government).

In any other country this would be unacceptable and someone would be held accountable. It is absolutely shameful that since July 2015, no substantial action has been taken to manage the accumulating waste. In fact, the situation is deteriorating rapidly, quickly reminding us of the civil war era. In addition, the head of Solid Waste Committee, Minister of Akram Chehayeb, has now resigned as head of the committee dealing with this crisis and Sukleen is warning that they are running out of space in the makeshift dump they have been allocated in Karantina and will have to stop collecting waste starting next week.

The handling of the waste crisis by the government has so far been nothing short of a disaster. Three failed attempts to find a quick fix and not one measure has been taken to help alleviate the impacts of the piling trash. It should be clear to the government by now that the only way forward is a sustainable solution that is transparent and takes into account the people’s voice. As things stand though, there is no light at the end of this tunnel, only more garbage.

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