The trash crisis in Lebanon has been temporarily resolved after a cabinet-approved decision to reopen Na’ameh for 2 months and establish landfills in two other sites for a period of 4 years. However, there is little hope that a long term sustainable solution will ever be realized under the current political conditions in the country. The problem can be traced as far back as the mid-1990s, when the World Bank offered Lebanon a loan to undergo post-war reconstruction efforts for its infrastructure. Part of the funding was intended to solve the country’s solid waste problem. In 2007, the World Bank tasked an independent evaluator to assess the project. Here are the evaluator’s findings:
“The Solid Waste Project’s objective to provide solid waste collection and treatment facilities for the whole country was overly ambitious. Although this objective was in line with Government’s initial strategy, project design was only modestly relevant because it failed to take account of Lebanon’s inexperience in solid waste management, lack of subsector capacity at the end of the civil war, and local political opposition to solid waste facilities and landfill sites. Its implementation was particularly fraught because of unmitigated social resistance and government’s changes in sector strategy that led to the withdrawal of Japanese co-financing and the restructuring of the project in 2001. At completion, only one of the 15 sanitary landfills planned was completed [the one in Zahle]. The project almost totally failed to achieve its objectives, and its outcome is rated as unsatisfactory.”
Not much has improved in the sector since that time. Lessons have not been learned. And the problems are tackled in exactly the same way. This is an excerpt from the Ministry of Environment’s State of the Environment Report of 2001:
“Landfilling is a land exhaustive waste disposal option. SWEMP [the Solid Waste and Environmental Management Project] envisioned constructing one landfill in the Koura region to serve three Cazas (Koura, Bsharre and Batroun). From a list of candidate sites prepared by the Design Engineer, the CDR [Council for Development and Reconstruction] selected a site in Kfar Hazir for constructing a sanitary landfill. An EIA [Environmental Impact Assessment] was prepared, recognizing certain hydrogeological concerns that had to be mitigated. Public consultation was initiated – but only after the site had been selected. When local communities got word of the full extent and location of the proposed landfill, they united against the project. Several prominent academicians from local universities joined them in their efforts to halt the project. However, neither the local inhabitants nor the project supporters proposed an alternative waste management scheme. As a result, the project was aborted at the end of 1999 and no alternative waste management system has been proposed since. To date, local municipalities continue to dump their waste in open lands and valleys.”
It is time for Lebanon to start doing things differently. Decentralized waste management might be the solution, but this needs to be supported by strong oversight, whether it’s from the government or civil society or both. The current situation will just lead to more and more waste of precious resources and time, in addition to increased environmental degradation and risk to public health.