Ministers hold garbage cards close to chest
Written by Malek

BEIRUT: Ministers discussed alternative methods of waste disposal during a Cabinet session Wednesday in an effort to pre-empt a potential trash crisis, with incinerators at the forefront of suggested solutions to Lebanon’s recurring garbage woes. “If incinerators are to be used then of course environmental impact studies will be made, a lot of technological developments have taken place since the 1990s and we will be applying them,” Environment Minister Tarek Khatib told The Daily Star. “We are looking into an overarching study that would include all aspects of the solution. ... The plan will be announced soon.”

As he was entering the session at the Grand Serail, Minister for the Displaced Talal Arslan said that the Cabinet was looking at importing incinerators and establishing so-called advanced factories. Beirut Mayor Jamal Itani had also said earlier that his administration would be seeking to employ incinerators to safely dispose of the capital’s waste. Lebanon is bound by the Stockholm Convention that aims to reduce and eliminate the emission of persistent organic pollutants. The pollutants are produced through thermal processes involving organic matter and chlorine.

Years of inadequate waste management have made locals distrustful of government plans around the issue, potentially rendering any new plans subject to extra public scrutiny.

In 1997 an incinerator located in the Amrousieh suburb of Beirut was burned down by residents protesting the toxic emissions produced by the site.

Khatib did not reveal any details of the government’s new plan, emphasizing that the decision to announce the solution belongs to Prime Minister Saad Hariri. Khatib also dismissed fears that the government would not be able agree on a solution before the Costa Brava landfill in south Beirut is closed.

Baabda Judge for Urgent Matters Hasan Hamdan Tuesday ordered the controversial Costa Brava landfill to be shut down within four months, sparking fears that trash would once again pile up in the streets as it did during the 2015 garbage crisis that took the government eight months to resolve.

The four-month period was provided to allow time for an alternate site to be found. The Costa Brava landfill had attracted seagulls that were shown to be a threat to civil aviation safety after one was sucked into a plane’s motor as it made its decent into Beirut’s Rafik Hariri International Airport in January.

Yet Khatib seemed confident that citizens will never again suffer the stench of failed waste management policies. “The crisis will not come back, a decision has been made by the prime minister and the Cabinet that the garbage will not return to the streets,” he said.

However, sourcing a location for the new incinerators and landfills remains a considerable obstacle.

Former Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s government encountered a similar stumbling block during the 2015 trash crisis, when Lebanese across the country refused to have landfills established in their neighborhoods. In July 2015, the Naameh landfill near Beirut was closed without a viable alternative in place, resulting in garbage piling up in the streets and sparking massive anti-government protests in the capital.

A waste management plan, approved by Salam’s Cabinet in 2016, called for the creation of the temporary landfill at Costa Brava and another in the Burj Hammoud area, east of Beirut, a decision that has been heavily criticized.

Information Minister Melhem Riachi told reporters after the Cabinet session that ministers will modify the trash plan adopted by Salam’s Cabinet, adding that “we will not allow Lebanon to sink in trash again.” Economy Minister Raed Khoury did not attend the session.

As the ministers convened, women rallied outside in Riad al-Solh Square, demanding a greater role for women in Lebanese politics and calling on officials to fulfill their promises on the adoption of a women’s quota in upcoming parliamentary elections.

“There will be no elections without a 30 percent quota of seats for women in parliamentary elections,” protesters chanted.

More than 150 women were present at the demonstration and were joined by Minister of State for Women’s Affairs Jean Ogasapian.

The National Coalition to Support the Establishment of Women’s Political Participation in Lebanon was among the groups campaigning for an increased role for women in political representation.

Only four of the 128 sitting lawmakers are female, and the 30-member Cabinet includes just one woman, the Minister of State for Administrative Development Inaya Ezzeddine.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 02, 2017, on page 2.