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Municipalities must bury their own trash: Lebanon environment minister

by Nizar Hassan for The Daily Star —
THE LEVANT NEWS – BEIRUT: Municipalities in Mount Lebanon should immediately cooperate with the government by allocating space for landfills to prevent the area from drowning in garbage, Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk warned Tuesday.

His comments came in a joint news conference with MP Marwan Hamadeh, head of Parliament’s Environment Committee, following an urgent committee meeting to discuss ways to deal with the garbage crisis in Beirut and Mount Lebanon sparked by Friday’s permanent closure of the Naameh dump.

The minister said Beirut had no space for any landfills, and so requires municipalities of other villages and towns to provide landfills and take in their share of garbage.

Those who do not collaborate, he added, should expect Sukleen to stop collecting their garbage.

“Every area should accept the amount of garbage it can handle,” he said, “but spreading blame does not lead to anything.”

Hamadeh called on all municipalities to collaborate to avoid a health crisis in the country, thanking the residents of Naameh and the surrounding areas for bearing the landfill for 18 years.

“It is not appropriate that we, as residents and daily visitors of Beirut, reject to accept our share of its garbage,” Marwan Hamadeh, an MP representing the Chouf district in Mount Lebanon, said.

But he also said municipalities should “be given their rights,” and their reception of garbage should be “facilitated” by the national government.

Trash began spilling out of dumpsters in Beirut and Mount Lebanon Monday, hours after waste management company Sukleen suspended garbage collection in the regions.

Only a few municipalities were able or willing to locate suitable grounds for trash burial.

Machnouk joined the meeting at Parliament after discussing the problem with Prime Minister Tammam Salam.

Beirut MPs will meet Salam Wednesday to discuss the crisis.

Machnouk has also said he would raise the matter at Thursday’s Cabinet session.

“Municipalities are the local administrations in the areas, and it is part of their prerogatives to be responsible for waste-related matters,” he said. “It does not require any new laws.”

He said Sukleen was currently collecting and treating waste even though its contract expired on July 17, 2015, the day the Naameh landfill was shut.

However, he underlined that the company should not stop until a solution is found.

At the news conference, he explained that the action plan for the country’s waste management sector includes three phases.

First, the third and final phase of the call for tenders for waste management companies will end on Aug. 5, after which contractors will be selected to manage waste in all areas except Beirut, because no companies have made any offers for the capital.

Then, for a period of six months, the companies would be preparing to take on their new responsibilities. After that, they would start collecting, recycling, treating and burying waste in a “sustainable” manner.

This would go on for four to five years, until the government finishes the construction of, and finds companies to manage, new facilities that would burn waste and produce energy.

He explained that the decision to build the burning factories was made in 2010, and that Ramboll Group had been contracted to prepare the plans and the bid documents for eventual contractors.

Machnouk emphasized that the ultimate goal was to make the waste management sector “decentralized.”

As for the immediate action that could stop the flooding of garbage onto the streets, Machnouk said it was up to those overseeing current landfills and dump sites.

Asked when the garbage would be cleared from the streets, he said that Sukleen was asked not to stop collection. But the company has no more space to store the waste in its facilities.

“They collect 3,000 to 4,000 tons of garbage every day, that’s 12,000 tons after more than four days,” he said.

His comments implied that the residents of Naameh and its surrounding should bear a few more months until alternative locations are ready to receive Beirut and Mount Lebanon’s waste.

Also, many of the 760 dump sites that exist across Lebanon could be used temporarily to reduce the crisis’ repercussions, he said, adding that most of the 263 villages served by Sukleen have enough spaces to bury their share of garbage.

The minister said civil society groups had an important role to play in ending the crisis, urging them to exert pressure on municipalities to guarantee full cooperation.

“The residents of Beirut are from all over Lebanon,” he said. “Therefore, areas should share the burden.”

Machnouk highlighted the fact that dump sites would be the responsibility of municipalities to monitor, and warned citizens and local authorities against burning any garbage, especially during summer, because of the high risk of the fire spreading.

The minister also urged the media to give less importance to the size of garbage piles on the street and highlight the positive initiatives by many municipalities and local groups. He gave the example of many bodies who have called on families to start sorting waste at home and bury organic waste in their gardens.

He refused to be blamed alone for the crisis, saying political parties who have contributed to the delay were also responsible.

Hamadeh in turn said the main problem is the public’s lack of trust in the government’s plans.

However, he said the crisis might turn out to have positive results for the environment if municipalities would ask households and establishments to start sorting waste, a practice imposed as mandatory in many developed countries.

Source: THE DAILY STAR

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