Something is rotten in the state of Lebanon

For now, Lebanon’s waste crisis is limited to its northern district but it will eventually extend all across the country.
Saturday 24/08/2019
Workers are seen at a waste treatment plant east of Beirut. (AFP)
Stubborn problem. Workers are seen at a waste treatment plant east of Beirut. (AFP)

Addressing a worsening garbage crisis, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri lambasted the country’s Christian and Muslim communities for blaming each other rather than helping forge a solution.

“The problem is that the Muslims do not accept the garbage of the Christians and the Christians do the same and what is happening is nothing short of a pandemic,” said Hariri.

With these gloomy and nauseating words, Hariri summed up the country’s mentality on its garbage crisis. Lebanon threatens to be swept up in its second waste crisis in three years, one that will solidify its reputation as a political and literal wasteland.

Hariri’s diagnosis of Lebanon’s waste management woes is deceptive and sinister, a clear effort to exonerate himself and the rest of the political class from the root of the problem.

Lebanon’s first garbage crisis was in the summer of 2015, prompting nationwide protests under the slogan “You stink.”

Lebanon’s cabinet, then led by Tammam Salam, promised to devise a national waste management strategy that would transition the country to modern recycling techniques incorporating waste-to-energy solutions. Three years later, the government has made no progress in implementing this strategy, still using three major landfills, which are quickly reaching capacity, to dispose of the country’s waste.

A major obstacle to implementing waste-to-energy solutions, namely incinerators, is public health concerns. If not managed appropriately, clinical waste incinerators can be toxic and carcinogenic, so many Lebanese have taken a “not in my backyard” attitude to them.

This is only natural. The public’s understandable distrust of a government that has proven to be incompetent and unreliable leads them to be sceptical of assurances that incinerators will be maintained in accordance with international health standards.

The Lebanese are not mere victims. They are also culprits in the country’s waste problem, largely refusing to join the civilised world in recycling or reducing unnecessary waste.

Despite many local initiatives, the Lebanese have yet to adopt recycling as a way of life. The country has an embarrassing 8% recycling rate, at par with some of the most underdeveloped nations in the world.

Lebanese law and culture promote the use of plastic products, while even groups such as al-Shabaab, a Somali terror organisation, have banned the product for being “a serious threat to the well-being of humans and animals alike.”

The most unnerving part of Lebanon’s waste crisis is that, if taken seriously, it could not only be remedied but capitalised on. Indeed, proper implementation of waste-to-energy projects could help Lebanon solve its chronic electricity shortage. However, predictably, Hariri’s cabinet is adopting only half-baked measures while burdening Lebanese taxpayers with masterplans that are doomed to fail.

For now, Lebanon’s waste crisis is limited to its northern district but it will eventually extend all across the country. When that happens, Hariri’s government will surely use the crisis to force the public’s hand. Lebanese will face the stark choice of either living in the midst of garbage-infested streets or supporting any government-backed solution, however irrational.

The issue drives home the point that Lebanon is going through a government breakdown. Not only is the economy threatened by US sanctions targeting Hezbollah, but, more important, it is at the mercy of the corrupt political class’s unquenchable appetite. Hoping for this situation to change on its own is no more logical than hoping for the devil to repent.

More than likely, it will only get worse. The streets of Lebanon will soon reek of garbage and the people will take to social media to express their outrage, which will soon peter out.

The reality, however, will stay the same: that there is something rotten in the state of Lebanon — and it is not only the garbage.