Friday, January 22, 2016

Why the garbage crisis in Lebanon shouldn’t be tolerated any longer

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Another storm is about to hit Lebanon this weekend. Its effects will be devastating on the environment and on our health. 

Heavy rain and snow mixed with garbage will dramatically increase the pollution of Lebanon’s soil and water. And ultimately poison everything we eat, drink and wash.

Is there still any need to stress on how dangerous the sanitary situation is and on how big the risks on our health are? The World Health Organization has even recently issued a warning to Lebanon...

These are, so far, the known consequences of the 7-month long garbage crisis:

- Alarming carcinogen levels in the air we breathe – a carcinogen is a substance directly involved in causing cancer.

- The rise of a new virus: Metapneumovirus B – a respiratory virus derived from the common cold that can be fatal when it comes to pneumonia.

- More and more cases of H1N1 (Swine Flu) – over 15 deaths have been reported in the past weeks.

- Serious concerns about cholera – especially in refugee camps where sanitary conditions are catastrophic.

We can’t anymore afford childish rhetoric, empty speeches and counter-productive stunts. The “you do nothing while we take risks” lie is no longer acceptable. If you close your eyes and run on a highway while shouting “I want a solution to the garbage crisis” you’re taking a huge risk. But it’s as stupid as it’s inefficient.

We need practical and urgent solutions. The so-called “exportation solution” – exporting Lebanon’s garbage to another country – has proven to be yet another way for some to make money. And, ironically, it carries more problems than solutions: the only garbage that are fit to export under international standards is the “new” garbage, not the hundred of tons rotting everywhere for the past 7 months…

In that regard, the Chehayeb plan – called after agriculture minister, now in charge of the garbage file, Akram Chehayeb – as imperfect as it may be, offers the best solution to date. Time for debating is over and idealistic solutions are in effect the same as no solution at all.

What can be done?

First and foremost understand that Lebanon is not divided anymore between March8 and March14, between Christians and Muslims or Sunni and Shia. Today, Lebanon is divided between those who genuinely want a solution to the garbage crisis and those who want to profit from it (financially, politically or for some illusive claim for fame.)

Practically speaking:

- Media (broadcast, print and online) need to make it their main headline every day until the crisis is over. But denouncing is not enough. Media have to play a crucial role in naming and shaming whoever is blocking and sabotaging the solution to the crisis.

- Political parties and personalities need to take a clear stance on the garbage crisis resolution and actively work to make it happen. Their supporters and followers need to push them to do so, under the threat of not voting for them in the next local and national elections.

- NGOs along with civil society activists and groups (whatever their mission statements) need to put all their own projects on hold and focus solely on the garbage crisis. They’d need to meet ASAP in a national conference to unite their stance and their actions in a clear and detailed roadmap. Whoever refuses to join should be named and shamed by all the others.

- The government, as inefficient and divided as it may be, needs to enforce the ban on burning garbage and arrest anyone who does, be it a politician or a simple citizen. Burning tires will also need to be banned – it’s as dangerous to our health, if not more, as burning garbage.

- As for Lebanese citizen, whatever their religion, sect and political opinions they need to organize in sanitary committees in villages and cities (in cities, they should organize by small areas (7ay) – in Beirut, for the Ashrafieh region for example, committees should be created in Fassouh, Chahrouri, Getawi, Sodeco, Sioufi, etc.) These committees will assist the security forces in enforcing the ban on burning garbage and hold daily peaceful protests to pressure both political establishment and local authorities. In so many words: create a de facto sanitary insurrection.

- On the international level, the Lebanese Diaspora (perhaps one of the most influential in the world) needs to work through the United Nation to list the Lebanese garbage crisis as a crime against humanity: over 6 million people (4.3 million Lebanese and 2 million refugees) are being knowingly poisoned. Anyone blocking the solution should face international sanctions (freeze of financial assets, arrest if he or she travels, etc.)

If we fail to do that, we will only have ourselves to blame and will be forced to declare Lebanon a failed state with a failed people.

No one in his or her right mind would want that. So let’s get to work, shall we?

© Claude El Khal, 2016

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