BEIRUT: The government took action Thursday to shut down over 75 unlicensed factories for their role in polluting the Litani River, caretaker Industry Minister Hussein Hajj Hasan said in a televised appearance.
The state also issued warnings the same day to around 80 licensed factories for polluting the river.
Nonetheless, Litani River Authority head Nassim Abou Hamad said more needs to be done.
“The major polluters can be counted on two hands and these are the ones that need to have action taken against them,” Abou Hamad told The Daily Star.
During his televised news conference, Hajj Hasan said that dozens of unlicensed factories in the Bekaa Valley will be shut down.
“Yesterday, the ministry took the decision to close 79 unlicensed factories that are polluting the Litani River,” Hajj Hasan said.
He added that initially 117 unlicensed factories were to be shuttered – but 38 of them later applied for licenses and, as a result, were allowed to remain in operation.
But Hajj Hasan said another decision was in the works targeting factories that do have licenses.
According to the minister, there are currently 261 licensed factories polluting the Litani River. “Of the 261, 189 factories are working to stop their pollution, while 72 have not yet acted. A decision will be taken in around a month and a half to close the factories that have not stopped polluting.”
Abou Hamad welcomed the news Thursday as a “good first step.” “There is no political cover anymore from the major parties and leaders for these big factories that contribute the most to the pollution.”
The LRA head cited Sicoma, Liban Lait and Tanmia as among those “big” factories. “They all have plenty of money to install proper filtering and methods to prevent pollution – so why don’t they?”
On its website, Tanmia, founded in 1972, claims it is “one of the leading chicken meat processing companies in Lebanon and the Middle East.” Sicomo is a major cardboard recycling mill, while Liban Lait is one of the country’s largest dairy farms. Late last month, Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri sponsored the signing of a deal to establish a waste treatment plant for Liban Lait.
“The public is protesting the pollution of the Litani and now everyone realizes that this is no joke.
“Now it’s time for the licensed factories to be [cracked down on],” Abou Hamad said.
The state-run National News Agency reported in September Hajj Hasan issued warnings to the 261 factories. At the time, he also called for the 117 unlicensed factories to rectify their legal status and said 27 more factories had been temporarily closed over pollution concerns.
The Litani River has been making headlines as activists, officials and ministers have pushed for solutions to the decades-old issue in Lebanon’s longest river. Years of neglect and poor management have left the river heavily polluted.
Among the causes, Hajj Hassan previously listed wastewater, industrial waste, pesticides, medical waste and waste produced by refugee camps.