In Lebanon, even garbage collection is subjected to confessional apportioning!

Tue, 12/30/2014

In Lebanon, garbage collection is at the center of political bickering and confessional polarisation in the context of policies that are largely short-sighted. With the deadline for the closure of the Naameh – Ain Darfil rubbish dump nearing, as well as the coming to end of the Averda Group (Sukleen and Sukomi) contract, which regulates the treatment of household solid waste, Lebanon seems now at the verge of an environmental crisis. This situation was exacerbated by the continuing dispute over the national solid waste plan, and the over saturation of the Naameh dumping site, a situation that may prompt the Cabinet to resort to hurried and short term solutions.

To be noted that since 1998, the management of solid waste in Lebanon is based on ad-hoc emergency plan. Lebanon produces annually some 4000 tons of solid waste thus exceeding international levels. 40% of these are dumped in ad hoc sites, 50% in landfills and only 10% are recycled. Priority has been given to collecting garbage in Beirut and its suburbia of Mount Lebanon, while other municipalities resort to moving their refuse to open dumps.

With regards to the current crisis, it is also to be noted that the Cabinet had issued a decree number 46 on November 30th 2014 in which it requests the Council of Development and Reconstruction to prepare the terms and conditions for launching a call for bidding for waste removal. As such, Beirut and Mount Lebanon were divided into 4 areas the first being the Cazas of Shuf, Aley and part of Baabda (upper Metn), the second being the Southern suburbs, the third being Beirut and part of Baabda, and the fourth including Metn, Kesrwan and the North.

According to informed sources, each of the country’s confessional circles of power started positioning itself to claim its share of the ‘garbage cake”, and this on the basis of geographical political considerations. According to these same sources, private companies affiliated to confessional powers are now ready to start garbage removal.

Discussions over this matter were postponed on several occasions, because of political bickering, particularly with regard to the fate of Naameh landfill. Differences in opinions have also emerged concerning the specific location of these new landfills which is suggested to be left to the companies to determine, and around the type of techniques to be used for treatment and land filling.

Parallel to that, the municipal heads have expressed their strong rejection of the proposed plan, stating that solid management should remain within the remit of municipalities. Environmental groups also contested the plan describing it as ill-studied and hurried. They also highlight the negative impact of the proposed plan which will mainly benefit private companies, while describing as inappropriate the suggested treatment technologies. Alternatively, activists propose strategies which, combine, on one hand, decreasing the volume of refuse production through public awareness, rationalisation of consumption, and on the other, recycling garbage and encouraging the emergence of related new industries.

Despite the some leakage of information, the specifics of the proposed plan remain largely obscure especially regarding the terms and conditions for bidding. Environmentalists have questioned the usefulness of over-emphasis on terms and conditions, at a time when no clear national strategy and vision have been developed.

Everything seems to indicate that the country is heading towards a deadlock, unless a speedy political compromise is reached and an exit scenario is found.