Lebanese President Reveals Plan to End Trash Crisis

A scavenger sifts through garbage piled on the bank of Beirut river, Lebanon. Source: Wikicommons

A scavenger sifts through garbage piled on the bank of Beirut river, Lebanon. Source: Wikicommons

Lebanon’s newly-elected president, Michel Aoun, announced on January 30 that a new waste management plan will be revealed soon. “This plan takes into consideration the interests of both municipalities and citizens,” declared Aoun. Although Aoun did not release the specific details of the plan, he claimed that it will “relieve the Lebanese regions of this crisis.”

For over a year and a half, waste management has been at the forefront of political issues in Lebanon. In July 2015, the Lebanese government closed the Naameh landfill, the main repository for Beirut and Mount Lebanon’s garbage for the past 20 years. This landfill was established in 1990 after the end of the Lebanese Civil War, but when it filled up and the contract with the private trash collection agency Sukleen expired, there was no alternative plan in place. Thus, trash began piling up in streets and in neighborhoods across the nation.

Since then, Lebanese citizens have been vocal in expressing their outrage. Widespread protests have often spread throughout Beirut and surrounding areas and have even resulted in clashes with the police, especially at the beginning of the crisis in 2015. The “You Stink” movement in particular gained ground; its name signified popular discontent with both the piles of trash in the streets and corruption in the Lebanese government.

Although these demonstrations put increasing pressure on Lebanese authorities, the parliament and cabinet have only been able to come up with temporary solutions, such as briefly re-opening the Naameh landfill. “All over the world, they have solutions for this, but not here,” expressed Muhammad Jradi, a disgruntled Lebanese fisherman.

One of the more recent short-term solutions is the reopening of the Costa Brava landfill. Located near both the coast and Rafic Hariri International Airport, the landfill presents serious implications for both aviation safety and the environment. Since its opening, the landfill has attracted large amounts of birds and rodents. The site caught media attention just a month ago, when an airplane hit a bird during take off. As a result, a judge ordered the closure of this site within the next four months despite the government’s installation of various bird repellents as a temporary solution. Many sources have also reported instances of experts coming in to shoot down the birds. These unconventional methods are not the first, as municipalities around the country often turned a blind eye to these problems, even encouraging their citizens to burn their trash.

The Lebanese people and the global community have also raised environmental and health concerns regarding the garbage crisis, specifically the implications for harming wildlife and using incinerators. Environment Minister Tarek Habib, however, attempted to address these matters, saying, “We are looking into an overarching study that would include all aspects of the solution. The plan will be announced soon.”

Despite President Aoun’s announcement, the future of the garbage crisis remains unclear. This issue is just one of many seemingly unending political issues that Lebanon has been facing in recent years. After more than two year gridlock in which the country had no president, they finally elected Aoun in October 2016. However, even under the new administration, activists have been speaking out against issues such as the lack of female representation in politics. The Lebanese population has also struggled with the deadlock and corruption that have dominated the country’s political scene for decades. Nonetheless, activists and citizens alike continue to hope that the trash in Lebanon gets cleaned up quickly.