Lebanese Cabinet approves garbage export plan

Lebanese Cabinet approves garbage export plan
The Lebanese cabinet on Monday approved controversial plans to export garbage to end the country's waste collection crisis which has entered its sixth month.
3 min read
22 December, 2015
Protests have died but Lebanon's trash disaster continues [Getty]

Lebanon's Cabinet approved a controversial plan to export garbage following a marathon six-hour meeting Monday evening, despite complaints by some ministers about its exorbitant cost. 

Prime Minister Tammam Salam emerged after the meeting, telling reporters that the pressing need to "end this nightmare" forced the government to resort to this option until a more lasting solution could be found.

It will likely be at least several weeks before implementation of the export plan starts. 

Huge amounts of garbage have accumulated in Beirut and Mount Lebanon since the summer waste crisis broke out.

Officials appeared split earlier over a proposal announced by Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb earlier this month to export garbage over its reportedly high cost, although details of the plan have not been made public.  

Lebanon has witnessed a chronic environmental crisis since mid-July, after the government permanently closed the notorious Naameh landfill, located southeast of Beirut, with no plan on what to do with the garbage.

The closure immediately resulted in the pileup of trash across Beirut and Mount Lebanon. The pile has since been located in temporary dumps such as parking lots, on the sides of roads, along coastal areas or even in valleys.

 The crisis led to the eruption of mass protests in summer organized by activist groups, which demanded the government find a solution as well as solve other problems.

Protests gone, disaster continues

Even though the protests have died down Lebanon's trash collection crisis is entering its sixth month, but you would hardly know it in Beirut.  

Not only are the capital's streets kept relatively garbage-free, but the country's politicians have been in no hurry to resolve the catastrophe. 

Instead, trash is pushed to the periphery, piled in hills near the mouth of the city's river, attracting a fly infestation that has plagued Beirut's easternmost residents since early November.  

On the other side of the river, trash mounds along the bank reach the height of roadway overpasses.  

"The situation is disastrous," said Rachid Rahme, a physician at Lebanon's Sacre Coeur Hospital. "I don't like to get involved in politics, but I'm sure they could find a way to deal with it rather than dealing with it in this way."  

 Frustration over the mounting garbage sparked a protest movement under the banner "You Stink," an epithet aimed at the government, which brought tens of thousands of demonstrators into Beirut's streets over the summer. 

To a country still accustomed to spasms of violence......the threat of disorder scared protesters off.

The demonstrations were a catharsis of discontent directed at the political class, which has walled itself off from popular opinion and failed to provide other basic services such as water, electricity and drainage.  

But those protests have largely fizzled out, owing to a mix of canny political maneuvering and repressive crackdowns. 

In September, young men openly identifying themselves as supporters of the country's Parliament speaker descended on the protesters, carrying knives and throwing punches and stones.

The security forces withdrew.

Every time demonstrators attempted to approach the parliament building, security forces fired their weapons into the air, sprayed tear gas and water cannons, and arrested dozens.  

To a country still accustomed to spasms of violence, twenty-five years after the formal conclusion of its civil war, the threat of disorder scared protesters off.  

"The political authorities played it smart to defuse us," said Assad Thebian, one of the organisers behind the politically unaffiliated campaign.  

Lebanon has not had parliamentary elections since 2009 and has failed to elect a president since 2014.