Solid waste management in Lebanon: The new time bomb

beirut garbage crisis youstink 2016 david hury
Nothing has changed since the first YouStink rallies in Beirut, here on March 12, 2016. © David Hury

We all know this inhuman mountain in Dora, north of Beirut. It’s a time bomb. Solid waste management is an urgent need in Beirut since the Borj Hammoud landfill, one of two principal landfills serving Lebanon’s capital, is set to reach its capacity by the end of July 2019; the Lebanese government had expected the landfill to be operational till 2020.

With little more than a month to go, the government has yet to provide any alternative site for Beirut’s solid waste. Lebanon’s Environment Ministry has instead submitted a 13-page solid waste roadmap to a ministerial committee recommending an expansion of the Borj Hammoud landfill.

In the meantime, the landfill is affecting the health of nearby residents. According to solid waste management experts, it is important to include and consult the affected communities.

“The government has to answer for why Lebanon’s waste management infrastructure has not been improved upon four years after the last waste crisis led to mounds of trash in the streets of Beirut,” said Lama Fakih, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “The government may be ready to bury its head in the sand but residents don’t want to end up buried in piles of trash.”

A public health issue

According to an international consultant hired by the Environment Ministry, the Borj Hammoud landfill is currently emanating particularly strong odors caused by the breaking down of manure and garbage in various states of decomposition. Public health experts and residents fear unless there is a proper waste management system in place, the emission of toxic pollutants from the landfill poses as a significant health hazard.

Further, leachate from the Borj Hammoud landfill is being dumped into the sea, which not only makes swimming in the sea in surrounding areas a health risk but also pollutes the sea and endangers sea life which has ramifications in our food chain.

Lebanese legislation as well as international standards stipulate that an Environmental Impact Assessment must be conducted before a project can commence and that measures must be taken to mitigate unavoidable adverse impacts. It is high time that the ministerial committee convene to discuss the roadmap for setting up a holistic waste management system, in consultation with experts and with the public before finalizing and submitting its proposal to the cabinet, said the Human Rights Watch.

Incidentally, the ministry was tasked with establishing a strategy under Lebanon’s Law 80/2018 on integrated solid waste management and was supposed to do so by March 2019. According to the Environment Ministry, this is still being finalized in line with the comments from civil society and other stakeholders.

On March 20, 2019, the Human Rights Watch had submitted a feedback as well as recommendations, which includes strengthening plans for consultation with the community, creating more effective monitoring and enforcement systems, raising public awareness about waste management issues, and combating discrimination in the current waste management practices.

According to an official from the Environmental Minister, the roadmap also includes a list of decrees and decisions that should be passed so that Lebanon’s integrated waste management law can be implemented and 24 other proposed sites for new landfills can be identified. Apart from this, Lebanon will also have to draft a law which outlines taxes and fees to be collected by the municipalities in order to recover the cost of their waste management systems.

Without passing such a law, neither the municipalities nor the central government will be able to fulfill their respective commitments as set out in the roadmap and in the law, said the Human Rights Watch.

“There is no excuse for continuing to delay the implementation of a rights-compliant waste management system,” said Fakih. “The ministerial committee should urgently make the tough decisions necessary to solve the problem rather than continuing to adopt temporary half-measures.”