Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1287, (17 - 23 March 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Will Lebanon resolve its garbage crisis?

A new plan to resolve Lebanon’s garbage crisis may have a chance of success, despite facing obstacles, because it mirrors the sectarian system that is in part responsible for the crisis, writes Hassan Al-Qishawy in Beirut

Al-Ahram Weekly

While the Lebanese government, headed by Prime Minister Tamam Salam, approved on 12 March a plan to resolve the eight-month-long garbage collection problem, it appears the issue continues to face obstacles.

Part of the problem is caused by the political and sectarian make-up of the country, which makes the idea of any area taking in the garbage of another area, especially if they are not of the same sect, unacceptable and insulting. These positions are aided by Lebanon’s political system, which is mostly decentralised: even remote areas can say no, which makes it hard for the government to impose anything against the will of residents and dynamics in different areas.

The position of the Lebanese state is unlike any other in the world. Everywhere else, the state monopolises the use of legitimate force. In Lebanon, the state is the outcome of forces in society and is merely a coordinator and regulator of conflict between the different social, sectarian and political forces.

If the Lebanese army and security forces cannot enter a district to arrest a terrorist or drug dealer without the political backing of the leaders of that area, then how can the state force a district to open a garbage landfill?

The Lebanese government’s statement, released early this week, details a plan that includes opening landfills and garbage collecting centres, with funding to local governments where these landfills are located. The Lebanese Phalanges Party, however, said its cabinet members did not approve of the plan, contrary to what was said about ministerial consensus on the plan. Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil, from the Amal Movement, said ministers from his movement approved the plan with several reservations on some articles.

Meanwhile, MP Alaa Al-Terw, a member of the Socialist Progressive Party bloc of Walid Jumblatt, declared his party’s rejection of the plan because the main landfills needed to resolve the crisis are located in areas under the party’s control.

MP Talal Arslan, chairman of the Lebanese Democratic Party, said he had reservations about the government plan. Arslan said his party would contact international experts and file a suit because the landfills in Costa Brava (his district) and Burj Hammoud, as stipulated in the plan, violate the Barcelona Agreement. He said that using the Costa Brava landfill is in no way the idea of the Socialist Party led by Jumblatt.

Arslan added: “No one should try and blackmail us with the resignation of the cabinet.” He described the government as an utter failure, by all political standards, for making the people choose between garbage on the streets and landfills.

He said that landfills should be created in remote areas: “From the first day, I said we should call on experts to supervise and come up with radical solutions for the garbage issue. However, there is insistence that politicians should handle the issue.” Arslan added that there are sectarian quotas, even for garbage.

The Lebanese civil movement has threatened civil disobedience and demonstrations in several areas where landfills are planned. Because of this, the crisis continues for the Lebanese people, who are obsessed with the issue, despite having survived civil wars, Israeli assaults, economic crises and poor electricity services. It appears they do not accept that the beauty of the country is destroyed by garbage.

The government’s plan comes after the failure of a previous scheme to export garbage, with several countries refusing to receive Lebanon’s waste. That plan also turned out to be very costly and complicated.

Despite current obstacles, this week’s plan may be more successful than its predecessor since Lebanese society is exhausted with the garbage problem. Civil movements have also been drained, and are now divided over protests against the plan after failing to rally enough opposition. Meanwhile, there were attempts by some civil groups to block passage into Beirut on Monday.

The Free Patriotic Movement, led by Foreign Minister Gebran Bassel, threatened to take to the streets to ensure the plan is adopted. Unlike previous ideas, this scheme seems more traditional and Lebanese in nature. It is based on the Lebanese way of distributing sectarian and regional benefits and penalties. It distributes landfills in many places around the country, and thus every sect will likely be responsible for its own waste. This resolves a critical problem in the crisis of sects refusing to receive the garbage of other sects.

The plan also gives many incentives to local governments where landfills are located, while being mindful of Lebanese character, which is sensitive to environmental and hygiene issues, by insisting that the landfills meet health standards. Despite mass protests, the plan will continue to employ the current garbage collecting company that is rather expensive.

Most importantly, the plan has been approved by the key forces in the country, namely Hizbullah, the Future Movement, Amal Movement, Patriotic Movement and, to some extent, Jumblatt, who said via a party member that he has some reservations but does not reject the plan outright.

These are the groups that run the country, and since the demise of Syria’s influence this grouping has rarely agreed on anything. But when they do, it is implemented.

They also know that the garbage problem is the only crisis that has brought the Lebanese people together despite their disagreements, and caused them for the first time to call for the overthrow of the sectarian system. These sectarian parties and leaders disagree on everything, but agree on one thing: the need to uphold the sectarian system in Lebanon.

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