Lebanese ministers boycott meeting on rubbish crisis

Trash continues to pile up in streets of Beirut as no new landfill site has been designated

Six ministers representing the Shia Hizbullah party and three Christian allies on Thursday boycotted an urgent session of the Lebanese government, set to discuss the mounting crisis over rubbish piling up in the streets of the capital and other cities and towns across the country.

Although environment minister Mohamed Mashnouk said striking employees of waste management companies Sukleen and Sukomi had agreed to return to work, no new landfill site has been designated for mounting trash, leaving contested temporary sites the only options.

The existing landfill, commissioned in 1998 at Naameh, south of Beirut, closed in July after 15 million tonnes of garbage rather than the contracted two million tonnes were dumped at the site. *

The government offered €87 million in development funds to the neglected northern Akkar region in exchange for permitting the creation of a landfill, but all of Lebanon’s districts have refused to host landfills.


Political connections

A list of firms tendering for regional garbage collection has been rejected by activists, who said the firms bidding were tied to corrupt politicians. This left Sukleen and Sukomi the only alternatives, although both are linked to the Hariri political family.

Interior minister Nouhad Machnouk, who belongs to the Hariri bloc, has rejected an investigation into the firms' operations and pricing.

Activists from the “You Stink” secular, multi-confessional movement have called for weekend protests against Lebanon’s “corrupt political class”. Activists have adopted the battle cry of the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings. “The people want fall of the regime.”

Clashes between protesters and police last weekend left one demonstrator dead, 44 wounded and 30 police injured.

Deadlocked cabinet

The violence prompted prime minister Tammam Salam to warn of the collapse of his cabinet, deadlocked by squabbling between the Hizbullah camp and the grouping led by former premier Saad Hariri, now based in Saudi Arabia.

If Mr Salam resigns, Lebanon will face a major constitutional crisis because his replacement has to be appointed by the president. Lebanon has been without a president for more than a year because parliament was unable to agree on a candidate.

Daily electricity outages, chronic shortages of water and the rubbish crisis have been exacerbated by high summer temperatures as well as government inaction.

Previous cabinets rather than the 18-month old Salam “unity” government are to blame for the crisis. They failed to build dams, power plants, landfills, and sewage treatment installations and to repair infrastructure wrecked during the 1975-90 civil conflict and Israel’s 1982 and 2006 wars on Lebanon.

This article was edited on August 29th 2015*

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen

Michael Jansen contributes news from and analysis of the Middle East to The Irish Times