BEIRUT: Lebanon moved closer to defusing the ruinous trash crisis Monday as state officials embarked on a campaign to win public support for a Cabinet plan to move trash to dumps and landfills.
The campaign was met with some receptiveness by segments of civil society, and the potent “You Stink” movement gave its conditions for endorsing the plan.
“The people don’t trust the state ... and we should work on rebuilding that trust,” Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb said at a news conference after attending a meeting of the Parliament’s Environmental Committee. But he also stressed the urgency of the situation.
“We do not have the luxury [to delay]. This portfolio requires the cooperation of all ... or the damage [from the trash] will grow too great for this country to handle,” he said, warning of the pollution that will wash into the aquifers and rivers when the winter rains begin.
The plan, which Chehayeb presented to the Cabinet’s approval last Wednesday, consists of an 18-month “transitional period” during which the waste sector is restarted, and a long-term strategy to return waste management responsibilities to municipalities.
Chehayeb vowed that the plan’s provisional components, which figure to distribute Beirut and Mount Lebanon trash to Naameh, Akkar, the east Bekaa, Burj Hammoud, and Sidon, would not become permanent. He added he would travel to speak with residents of concerned locations Tuesday and Wednesday.
Other guests to attend the Environment Committee meeting were representatives from the UNDP, the Shura Council, and the “No Corruption” campaign.
“Chehayeb’s plan left a positive impression” on the committee and its guests, said chairman MP Marwan Hamade. “But the time for theoretical talk is over, and it is time for action,” he added.
Civil society voiced objections to key components of Chehayeb’s plan over the weekend, obliging the minister to clarify the proposals Monday.
Municipal debts to the state would be erased, pending a law from Parliament, he said, to allow municipalities to develop their waste sectors. Authorities will also levy penalties against residents and businesses that fail to sort their trash at the source, though he did not say when this regime would be enacted.
Environmentalists met privately with Chehayeb in the evening and reported a positive meeting. “We talked for three and a half hours, and we discussed every small detail. It was a productive, positive and scientific meeting,” said Paul Abi Rachid, the head of Lebanon EcoMovement, a coalition of Lebanese environmentalists. “They answered our questions and adopted our ideas.”
Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk met with 21 Akkar mukhtars to press the proposal to bury trash at a dump in Srar. Chehayeb’s plan promises to transform it into a sanitary landfill, to keep poisonous runoff and explosive gases from leaking into the environment.
The You Stink movement Monday called on the Cabinet to amend its waste-management decree approved last week with four articles to guarantee environmental protection and the decentralization of the waste sector.
Assaad Thebian, co-founder of the campaign, told The Daily Star that the first condition would be the implementation of mandatory waste sorting from the source, meaning by consumers themselves.
The movement also called for the release of funds owed to municipalities but are frozen by government, as well as the cancellation of municipalities’ debts without waiting for a decision by the Parliament, which is currently paralyzed due to disputes over the vacant presidential election.
The fourth amendment is the cancellation of a decree that was approved by the Cabinet earlier this year to hold a call for tenders in the waste-management sector, Thebian added. However, Thebian underlined that even if the four conditions were taken into account, his movement would back the people if they refused the plan.
You Stink has fiercely opposed holding a call for tenders, arguing they allow politicians to strike illicit deals with businessmen. The Cabinet rejected the winning bids in the call for tenders last month, saying the prices were too high.
MP Alain Aoun, a member of the Free Patriotic Movement, hinted his party’s support for Chehayeb’s plan, after he attended the Environment Committee meeting. The FPM was originally hesitant to endorse it.