Resolving the national waste management crisis awaits local and confessional compromises

Mon, 11/30/2015

Four months after the onset of the waste management crisis and the failure of various band aid solutions put forward in providing appropriate health and environmental solution, the latest plan submitted by Minister Akram Chehayeb appears to be still pending as it awaits confessional political compromise on new dumpsites, a matter which was met with a wide local popular opposition.

As a reminder, the crisis erupted after the closure of the Naameh dumpsite on July 17th, sparking a popular protest movement which stared to grow in parallel with the inability of the government to deal with it. Popular protests which were peaceful at the beginning, subsequently became more violent, and started raising various radical political slogans, such as the demand for the resignation of the Minister of Environment, Mohammed Mashnook, a demand raised after his futile attempts to find solutions to the problem, and as far as changing the current political system. However, the Minister refused to resign but decided to step down from the joint government committee entrusted with the matter and was replaced by Minister of Agriculture, Akram Shehayeb who brought into it soma environmentalists and activists before coming up with a new national plan which was endorsed by the cabinet. The main elements of the new plan included: the adoption of two new dumpsites, one in Sraar in Akkar and the second in the Masna3h area along the Syrian border, the re-opening of the waste processing site in Saida for a temporary period, and finally removing the accumulated garbage in Beirut and Mount Lebanon to Naameh which will then be re-opened for only seven days!

Shehayeb’s plan provoked immediate negative reactions from the residents of Naameh, Akkar, Majdel Anjar and Saida who alongside with protesters in Beirut, decided to reject this new plan. For his part, Shehayeb confirmed that the decision to open the Sraar dumpsite was still in effect and that work on the new site was proceeding as planned. As a result protests in Beirut and the region escalated during which a number of protesters were either detained or injured, leading to the freezing of preparation work in the new location. The proposal for the set up of a new dumpsite in Masna3h was also met with the same refusal by local residents. Attention was then shifted to a new alternative location in North Beqaa, namely in Kfar Zabad. This too was met with a stern opposition by local residents, similarly to other alternative sites in Jenta, and Yahfufa in North Baalbaq.

The civil popular movement in Beirut also turned down the government waste management plan, describing it as a failed attempt to fudge the causes of the crisis. According to that movement, the proposed plan is weak from an environmental perspective since it is based on the creation of dumpsites. In reaction, the movement presented its own plan which included three of their key demands: first the release of municipal funds so that they can deal with their new responsibility of waste management, initiating the process of waste sorting from the source, and finally refusing any form of collaboration with Sukleen. These counter proposals were met with skepticisms by government officials.

In conclusion, the Shehayeb plan seems to remain the only game in town and may find its way to implementation provided that a confessional political compromise over the creation of new local dumpsite can be reached.