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Lebanon’s waste system damaging residents’ health, says HRW

A garbage dump in Beirut in Lebanon on 21 March 2017 [Ratib Al Safadi/Anadolu Agency ]
A garbage disposal area in Beirut in Lebanon on 21 March 2017 [Ratib Al Safadi/Anadolu Agency]

Lebanon’s unsustainable waste management system is damaging the health of residents, a report released yesterday by the Waste Management Coalition (WMC) and Human Rights Watch (HRW) says.

The publication comes six weeks after rubbish started piling up on Beirut’s streets, after a landfill site in eastern Beirut reached capacity and stopped receiving waste at the end of April.

According to the report, the government approved a vertical expansion of the landfill site in response. This solution, however, is only expected to last three months.

Yesterday’s report also highlights the high cost Lebanon spends on managing solid waste. According to the WMC, Lebanon spends nearly ten times more than similar states, Jordan and Tunisia. Moreover, per tonne of solid waste, Lebanon spends $154.5, compared to $22.8 in Jordan and $21.55 in Syria.

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The WMC and HRW report calls on the government to adopt a long-term and sustainable solution to the problem, without damaging residents’ health and straining the public health sector further.

The report states previous short-term solutions, including increasing open waste burning, have damaged the health of residents, causing a rise in the prevalence of skin conditions, throat irritation, asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

“Rights groups and environmental experts have been warning Lebanese decision-makers for years that Lebanon’s waste management practices are not sustainable,” Lebanon researcher for HRW, Aya Majzoub, said.

Adding, “the costs of inaction are huge, and residents are being denied their right to health and a healthy environment every day this crisis goes unaddressed.”

The landfill site in eastern Beirut, which, according to the HRW report, was set up without an Environmental Impact Assessment, and fails to comply with international best practices, was initially established in 2015 in response to a nationwide waste management crisis.

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Since 2015, successive governments in Lebanon have adopted stop-gap policies which delay the problem, rather than solve it, resulting in repeated crises in subsequent years.

The international watchdog has consistently called on Lebanon to adopt a long-term solution, but actions suggest its warnings have been ignored.

In an August 2019 report from the HRWentitled ‘No Quick Fixes to Trash Crisis’, Lama Fakih, then acting Middle East director, said: “The government has had four months to find a solution to the north’s trash crisis, but it is still dragging its feet and relying on temporary half-measures.”

Adding, “residents in the north are paying the price for the government’s continued failure to manage the country’s waste.”

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HRWInternational OrganisationsLebanonMiddle EastNews
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