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Lebanon: Garbage crisis no closer to solution

THE LEVANT NEWS — By Philip Issa for The Daily Star — With four months having passed since authorities closed the country’s largest landfill, in Naameh, officials are barely any closer to resolving the trash crisis than they were in July.

Prime Minister Tammam Salam’s office is considering three serious proposals from international firms to export hundreds of thousands of tons of waste over 18 months, a government source told The Daily Star, before municipalities can begin to deal with their trash on their own.

But any deal will require ministerial approval, and no Cabinet session is on the horizon, implying the export route remains far off. At any rate, the costs will likely be high.

Municipalities, meanwhile, have been clamoring for their share of government revenues since Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk abruptly told them to manage their own garbage one day before Naameh closed, on July 17.

They say the cash will allow them to develop their own waste sectors and subsequently sever their reliance on the government.

Despite repeated ministerial promises to do so, this initiative, too, is stuck. Parliament was expected to pass a bill during last week’s legislative session to transfer over $800 million of pay to municipalities. It did not.

A Cabinet decree that would also accomplish the transfer, dated Sept. 9 and signed by 19 out of 24 ministers, remains unpublished.

The sight of garbage piling high around the capital spawned a civic movement demanding accountability in government that was robust in its early days but has largely fizzled out. And while the You Stink campaign has organized occasional cleaning days, where volunteers pack garbage that municipalities have left out to rot, it is powerless to keep up with the daily 3,000 tons of waste production.

The We Want Accountability campaign is organizing an Independence Day march through Downtown Beirut on Nov. 22, representatives announced Monday.

In the meantime, residents have little choice but to try to reduce their own waste production, and hope they don’t fall ill. The insects are common vectors for disease, ferrying bacteria on their appendages from one meal – garbage or feces, for example – to the next – a manouche, or the dinner plate.

Weather forecasts are calling for more showers Tuesday, which could wash some of the flies out.

But with trash still fermenting along streets and rivers, the rain will also soak toxins and infectious microbes into the groundwater, threatening public health.

Source: The Daily Star

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