While trash has stopped accumulating in the streets of Beirut, the waste crisis has still not been completely resolved. Last March, the government agreed on reopening the Naameh landfill for two months and establishing two new landfills, one in Costa Brava south of Beirut and another in Burj Hammoud. The Naameh Landfill was briefly reopened to receive the waste that had mounted up in makeshift dumpsites since its closure last July. The government has also issued a tender for a recycling facility that serves Beirut and Mount Lebanon.
There is still much public resistance against the establishment of the new landfills. Almost two weeks after the adoption of the new plan, local residents took to the streets demanding the closure of the Costa Brava site. Despite approval by the government, there is also political opposition to both landfills in Costa Brava and Bourj Hammoud. For now, the government’s plan is to store to the waste near the two facilities until the landfills are ready to receive waste.
The problem seems to be that there does not seem to be any criteria on how the locations were picked. Throughout the crisis, the media reported on various potential locations the government was considering such as Akkar, Bekaa, and Nabatiye. Why were the locations in Costa Brava and Bourj Hammoud more suitable to host a landfill than in other areas in Lebanon? What are the potential impacts that can be expected from establishing landfills in these two regions? How will adverse impacts be mitigated? What are the main concerns of the residents living nearby, and how will these be addressed? These are all questions the government should have had answers to before moving ahead with their plan.
If the government followed Lebanese regulations, then environmental studies that address all the questions listed above would have been carried out. A Strategic Environmental Assessment (SEA) on the Solid Waste Sector of Lebanon would have studied the different alternative locations and their environmental and socioeconomic implications. This would have helped the government pick a location based on scientific data and reliable information. Once the locations are selected, a full Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) for each location would investigate the impacts develop an Environmental Management Plan that helps minimize the adverse impacts. Public consultations would have been carried out during the SEA and EIA, offering local residents a chance to communicate their concerns and give the government an opportunity to take these concerns into consideration, explain the proposed activities and create trust in the process. All of this may seem very radical for Lebanon, but Lebanese law actually requires this.
Nevertheless, the government can still remedy the situation to a certain degree. People are rejecting landfills for two main reasons: the Naameh landfill experience and because they feel that the landfills are being forced on them. The government needs to create a mechanism that allows the average citizen to officially complain and have their complaint investigated. This can either be through a hotline or complaints desk at their municipality. To avoid the fate of the Naameh landfill, a detailed and comprehensive Environmental Management Plan (EMP) that addresses all the environmental issues needs to be developed. The EMP would also include a schedule for monitoring activities, legal limits for indicators, mitigation measures, and a decommissioning plan. It is of the utmost importance that the landfills are closed at their intended date and the land be reclaimed for public use.
The EMP needs to be subject to oversight. This should be carried out by an independent actor, such as a committee made of technical experts (solid waste experts, hydrology experts, environmental experts, etc.), NGOs and civil society should have access to the landfills and all monitored indicators. This committee would ensure that the impacts have been minimized and that the landfills are operating as planned.
Once the landfill issue is resolved, a comprehensive solid waste management plan for the area needs to be developed and implemented as soon as possible. Hopefully the government will be able to do this efficiently and transparently.