There was good news for Lebanon this past week. First of all, the International Support Group, meeting in Paris, reaffirmed its support for Lebanon’s independence and territorial integrity, and it continued preparations for the Donors Conference in March, ahead of the May Parliamentary elections. Secondly, the World Bank announced that in addition to the $1.5 billion already spent in Lebanon, it was preparing another $700 million worth of projects.
According to the Bank’s regional director, Saroy Kumar Jha, the new funds have been allocated to ensure the economic and social stability of the country, in particular the education and health sectors and setting up a special economic zone for the north in Tripoli. The funds are meant to help the education and health sectors, as well as support the establishment of a special economic zone in Tripoli.
In addition, the EU pledged $23.6 million to improve waste management in Mount Lebanon and Beirut, just days after a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report detailing the toxic impact of weak waste management in the country. The EU’s funds will underwrite the construction of eight sanitary landfills to process medical waste and residues from slaughterhouses in Beirut and Mount Lebanon.
Although Environment Minister Tarek Khatib claimed there is no trash crisis in the country, Inaya Ezzeddine, Minister of State for Administrative Development said that Lebanon’s waste problem “was no less serious than the country’s political or security crises.” According to the Daily Star, the ministry laid the blame for environmental issues on Syrian refugees and Israel’s 2006 bombing campaign, which caused oil spills on Lebanon’s beaches. Those conditions certainly have an impact but the reality is that “Lebanon has had no solid waste management plan since the 1975-1990 Civil War, during which the state broke down and informal dump sites began sprouting across the country.”
To move effectively in support of the EU grant requires that Parliament pass regulations that set the legal framework for waste management in the country. The HRW report, based on data from the Environment Ministry and the United Nations Development Program, “found 941 open dumps across the country as of 2017, including 617 municipal solid waste dumps. It found that trash was burned at more than 150 dumps at least once a week on average. HRW found that open burning is a direct result of the Lebanese government’s mismanagement of its solid waste, according to the article.
The HRW report went on to say that “The lack of action by authorities to end open burning of waste across Lebanon is posing serious health risks for nearby residents, violating their right to health as people living near open burning reported health problems consistent with the frequent and sustained inhalation of smoke from open burning at waste dumps.”
The 67-page report, “‘As If You’re Inhaling Your Death’: The Health Risks of Burning Waste in Lebanon,” finds that Lebanese authorities’ lack of effective action to address widespread open burning of waste and a lack of adequate monitoring or information about the health effects violate Lebanon’s obligations under international law, noted HRW in its press release.
The first step, after acknowledging the problems and the risks, according to HRW, is that “Lebanon should end the open burning of waste and carry out a sustainable national waste management strategy that complies with environmental and public health best practices and international law.” Critically, Nadim Houry, interim Beirut director at HRW noted that “People may think the garbage crisis started in 2015, but this has been going on for decades as the government jumps from one emergency plan to the next while largely ignoring the situation outside Beirut and surrounding areas.”
The report highlighted the fact that “In the 1990s, the central government arranged for waste collection and disposal in Beirut and Mount Lebanon but left other municipalities to fend for themselves without adequate oversight, financial support, or technical expertise. As a result, open dumping and burning increased across the country. According to researchers at the American University of Beirut, 77 percent of Lebanon’s waste is either openly dumped or landfilled even though they estimate that only 10 to 12 percent cannot be composted or recycled.”
Despite Lebanon’s environmental protection laws, which prohibit open burning of waste, the Environment Ministry “appears to lack the necessary personnel and financial resources for effective environmental monitoring.” Parliament has not yet passed a 2012 draft law that would create a single Solid Waste Management Board.
Lebanon’s cabinet approved a draft law in 2012 that would create a single Solid Waste Management Board, headed by the Environment Ministry, but has not passed the bill. Unfortunately, while recent considerations focus on the use of incineration plants, they are significant polluters with attendant emissions and high costs.