Lebanon News

Lebanon trash committee agrees to landfills, Cabinet set to vote Saturday

In this Thursday, Dec. 17, 2015 photo, a car passes by a pile of garbage in Karantina, east Beirut, Lebanon. Lebanon’s trash collection crisis which set off summer protests is entering its sixth month, but you would hardly be able to know it in Beirut. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)

BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam has called for an extraordinary Cabinet session for Saturday to vote on a proposal to open controversial landfills around Beirut.

Following a third consecutive day of meetings of the ministerial trash committee Friday, attendees announced that they had agreed to open landfills in Costa Brava, located south of Beirut, Burj Hammoud, northeast of Beirut, and temporarily reopen the infamous Naameh landfill, southeast of Beirut.

Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb said that they had overcome many obstacles in reaching the solution.

“Many obstacles have been overcome, and everyone now knows their responsibilities. The landfills are ready despite some remaining obstacles, and the health of the people is the most important thing,” Chehayeb told reporters as he left the meeting.

Naameh's closure in mid-July had set off the eight-month-long trash crisis, and previous attempts to reopen it even for a one-week period were met with hostility by local residents who vowed to block its entrance.

Friday's announcement is likely to spur fresh protests by locals who are concerned of the health and environmental risks of living near a landfill.

Moments after the meeting ended, Aley MP Talal Arsalan tweeted that he regretted the ministerial committee’s agreement to open a landfill in Costa Brava, saying that he would not comment on the decision until he and Progessive Socialist Party leader Walid Jumblatt consult with local residents.

Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan told reporters that the trash crisis has neared its end, and is now dependent on local officials, such as Arslan to agree on the establishment of landfills in their areas.

Arslan, who has repeatedly voiced his opposition to a landfill in Costa Brava, had said earlier Friday that he will not accept setting up any landfill in his entire district.

“We will not agree to the establishment of any solid waste landfill within the Choueifat [area],” Arslan said on Twitter.

The government was also expected to discuss opening sanitary landfills in Sojod village in south Lebanon, and in the northern village of Srar. The fate of those villages was not immediately clear.

The Cabinet had approved a plan in September that would have established a landfill in Srar, but it never materialized due to protests by locals who said the northern Akkar district was not a dump for Lebanon.

Ministers had expressed hope before Friday's meeting that a solution was imminent.

Before entering the meeting at the Grand Serial, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk said that if the government made a decision, then “a solution to the trash issue could be reached within hours.”

A day earlier, Machnouk tweeted that the committee has reached “two-thirds of the solution in the garbage file.”

Education Minister Elias Bou Saab asked why all proposals which were brought up at the beginning of the trash crisis have “all ears now,” suggesting that some government officials were more open to solutions than others.

Salam had warned last week that he would freeze the Cabinet’s work or resign himself if the government failed to find a solution.

After a Cabinet-backed trash export scheme collapsed last month due to corruption allegations, the government has revisited plans to reopen or set up several sanitary landfills to end the crisis.

Machnouk noted Thursday that the establishment of landfills would be facilitated through the provision of enticements, rather than by force.

The president of the Lebanese environmental coalition Ecomovement, Paul Abi Rached, told The Daily Star Friday that it’s illogical for the government to ask the people to accept setting up landfills in their towns.

“The Cabinet is behaving as if it hasn’t been more than seven months since the trash crisis began. It’s non-sense to ask people to accept the creation of landfills in their areas. No one will agree to replicate the Naameh landfill, which was a mistake from the beginning.”

Abi Rached said that if the government sets up what is known as a compost pile in such areas where only organic materials are dumped, instead of landfills, “the residents will not refuse.”

The ministerial committee meeting comes one day before a planned protest by a group of civil society organizations against the ensuing trash issue.

Beirut Port employees threatened Thursday to strike over the increase in the amount of garbage dumped near the facility, saying that it endangers the health of workers.

Greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon have suffered a chronic environmental crisis since the state closed the infamous Naameh landfill on July 17 with no alternative on the table.

Tons of trash has accumulated in municipalities, sometimes in hazardous locations, since then.

 

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