Lebanon’s trash crisis returns, but did it ever disappear in the first place?

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A picture taken on January 23, 2018 shows a view of the beach of the coastal town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut, covered with garbage and waste that washed and piled along the shore after stormy weather. (AFP)
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Workers clean the beach of the coastal town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut, on January 23, 2018 as garbage washed and piled along the shore after stormy weather. (AFP)
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Workers clean the beach of the coastal town of Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut, on January 23, 2018 as garbage washed and piled along the shore after stormy weather. (AFP)
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Garbage litters the shore of Zouk Mikael, north of the Lebanese capital Beirut, on January 22, 2018. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2018

Lebanon’s trash crisis returns, but did it ever disappear in the first place?

DUBAI: Lebanon’s garbage crisis resurfaced Monday as rubbish was found strewn across a Lebanese beach, believed to have been washed down by stormy weather from a nearby landfill site on the coast – a claim the government denies.
Images of the beach, covered in a blanket of rubbish were shared across social media prompting outcries from residents and politicians alike. It comes as Human Rights Watch (HRW) launched a campaign over health and environmental concerns prompted by the decision to burn the vast amounts of trash that have built up in the country’s landfills.
“The sea has filled with garbage because officials who lack conscience and competency are in charge of the waste file,” Kataeb Party chief MP Sami Gemayel told local news channels.
The rubbish on the beach, near the Zouk Mosbeh/Nahr Al-Kalb river, is believed to have been washed down from the Burj Hammoud landfill during a storm the day before.
“The Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) is in charge of overseeing these works and there is an environment minister and a government. They are all to blame and they must be held responsible for what we are witnessing today [Monday],” Gemayel said.
The politician said the council had not taken measures to prevent such an incident from occurring, sighting the absence of wave breakers as the main reason for the landfill’s garbage spewing onto the beach and into the sea.
However the CDR issued a statement denying the landfill’s role in the beach pollution, but videos shared on social media appear to show otherwise.
The statement, translated from Arabic, read: “This news is completely false, in our knowledge the garbage disposal os surrounded by concrete and there is no way for the sea to enter. It is strange that the waves took the garbage from Ghadeer and Burj Hammoud and put them in Keserwan [Zouk Mosbeh/Nahr el-Kalb] without them having any effect on the coast in between.”
Prime Minister Saad Al-Hariri has since ordered an immediate clean-up of the coast.
The Lebanese garbage crisis began in the summer of 2015 after the closure of the Naamah landfill site after it had reached capacity. For months after, with no alternative site, Beirut’s streets became filled with large piles of rubbish that stretched for miles.
Eventually the Burj Hammoud landfill was expanded – but even that was insufficient to cope with the increase bulk of waste produced by the nation and HRW says illegal sites were created by the Lebanese government.
#StopTheBurning
But the beach incident is just the latest in the ongoing crisis. HRW launched #StopTheBurning campaign last week after it was revealed that staff at the landfills had been instructed to burn the vast amounts of garbage leftover by the 2015 crisis.
And HRW is now calling on the Lebanese government to cease the burning, and is rallying support through online messages and billboards across the country.
“We are pressing the government to end the dangerous practice of open burning, and finally pass a national waste management law and strategy that fulfills the right to health and a clean environment and comply with international law,” HRW researcher Bassam Khawaja told Arab News.
The government had resorted to burning large quantities of rubbish in landfills in a short-term plan to rid the Mediterranean country of its trash, but the health consequences are severe, according the HRW report.
“Human Rights Watch has found that government’s failure to stop the widespread open burning of waste at more than 150 dumps violates Lebanon’s obligation to protect the health of its residents under international human rights law,” Khawaja added.
Open burning has increased in Beirut and Mount Lebanon after the waste management system collapsed in 2015, with a 330 percent increase at the latter site alone, according to the Civil Defense and Lebanon’s fire department.
“Open burning of waste is harming nearby residents’ health one garbage bag at a time, but authorities are doing virtually nothing to bring this crisis under control,” said Nadim Houry, interim Beirut director at HRW.
“People may think the garbage crisis started in 2015, but this has been going on for decades as the government jumps from one emergency plan to the next while largely ignoring the situation outside Beirut and surrounding areas,” Houry added.


US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

Updated 49 min 1 sec ago

US contractor told Lebanese port official of chemicals risk

  • Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast
  • The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years

WASHINGTON: About four years before the Beirut port explosion that killed dozens of people and injured thousands, a US government contractor expressed concern to a Lebanese port official about unsafe storage there of the volatile chemicals that fueled last week’s devastating blast, American officials said Tuesday.
There is no indication the contractor communicated his concerns to anyone in the US government.
His assessment was noted briefly in a four-page State Department cable first reported by The New York Times.
The cable, labeled sensitive but unclassified, dealt largely with the Lebanese responses to the blast and the origins and disposition of the ammonium nitrate, which ignited to create an enormous explosion. But it also noted that after the Aug. 4 explosion, a person who had advised the Lebanese navy under a US Army contract from 2013 to 2016 told the State Department that he had “conducted a port facility inspection on security measures during which he reported to port officials on the unsafe storage of ammonium nitrate.”
Concerns about the ammonium nitrate were known within the Lebanese government before the deadly blast, officials said.
The contractor, who was not identified by name and is now a State Department employee based in Ukraine, was in Lebanon to provide instruction to members of the Lebanese navy. While there, he made a brief, impromptu inspection of physical security at the facility in 2015 or 2016 at the request of a port official, US officials said. The contractor was not identified.
The contractor, who has a background in port and maritime security, noted weaknesses in security camera coverage and other aspects of port management but was not assessing safety issues, according to the US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity in advance of a planned public statement.
While inside the warehouse where ammonium nitrate was stored, the contractor saw problems such as poor ventilation and inadequate physical security, which he noted to the port official accompanying him, the officials said. It is unclear whether the port official reported this concern to his superiors.
The thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate had been stored in the warehouse for more than six years, apparently with the knowledge of top political and security officials. The catastrophic explosion one week ago Tuesday killed at least 171 peoples and plunged Lebanon into a deeper political crisis.
The contractor was working for the US Army’s Security Assistance Training Management Organization, headquartered at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He provided instruction to members of the Lebanese armed forces in naval vessel traffic systems and small boat operations. His class was visiting the Beirut port as part of that instruction program when the port official asked him for the inspection, which US officials said lasted about 45 minutes.
The United States has a close security relationship with Lebanon. According to the State Department, the US government has provided Lebanon with more than $1.7 billion in security assistance since 2006. The assistance is designed to support the Lebanese armed forces’ ability to secure the country’s borders, counter internal threats, and defend national territory.
Last September a US Navy ship, the guided-missile destroyer USS Ramage, visited Beirut. It was the first time in 36 years an American warship had made a port visit there, according to the US military at the time.