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Lebanon: Warnings of 'health catastrophe' as garbage crisis continues Open in fullscreen

Karim Traboulsi

Lebanon: Warnings of 'health catastrophe' as garbage crisis continues

Locals protested in Tripoli on Monday over reports Beirut's garbage was dumped there [ANWAR AMRO/AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 18 August, 2015

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One month into Lebanon's garbage crisis, there are no signs a radical solution will be found soon. Now, the country's Health Minister has warned of an imminent "health catastrophe"
Minister Wael Abu Faour made his warnings at a news conference on Monday, during which he called for "drastic measures" by the government, including creating an emergency committee to bypass political wrangling over the issue and deal directly with local municipal officials.

The Lebanese government is struggling to find new landfills to absorb Beirut and Mount Lebanon's waste.

He also called for the immediate removal of garbage that has been dumped near hospitals, schools and food processing facilities, including flourmills and fish markets.

Abu Faour's statements are likely an attempt to put public pressure on other ministers to overcome their disputes.
There have been reports of trucks illegally dumping waste from Beirut in valleys and natural clearings

Waste management contracts in Lebanon are worth hundreds of millions of dollars, and many see this as part of the ongoing crisis.

There have been reports of trucks illegally dumping waste from Beirut in valleys and natural clearings, as well as in other cities, including in the northern city of Tripoli.

Politicians from other regions of Lebanon have refused to process waste from Beirut and Mount Lebanon in their landfills, or have tried to negotiate with the government to pass development projects in their regions in return for doing so.

Informal dumping of garbage has prompted a huge outcry among environmental groups and citizens. On Tuesday, local press reported that the staff at Beirut's port would go on an open-ended strike to protest the dumping of garbage near the facility.

Activists have been trying to track and document the illegal dumping.

Others, like in the You Reek campaign, have been staging protests and even trying to give the politicians a taste of their own medicine, leaving rubbish bags outside the Environment Minister's house recently. Some of the protests turned violent.

Many solutions have been proposed by environmental groups, with recycling at the heart of most ideas in circulation.
Some residents burned rubbish on the streets, resulting in toxic fumes covering parts of Beirut

However, the country's chronic political paralysis makes it unlikely for such measures to be adopted by the government - which had even briefly considered exporting garbage as a quick solution.

The garbage crisis started last month, when the government agreed to shut down the Naameh landfill, which had been receiving Beirut and Mount Lebanon's waste for 18 years, 16 years more than originally planned.

The company managing the capital's waste subsequently stopped garbage collection, leaving huge garbage piles in the streets for nearly two weeks. Some residents had to resort to burning rubbish on the streets, resulting in toxic fumes covering parts of Beirut.

Collection resumed after temporary landfills were assigned, but most of them do not meet health and safety standards, according to environmentalists.

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