Politicians deadlocked as trash piles up again

The trash crisis appears set to deepen, with no solutions arising from parliamentary committee meeting

Parliament members give the newly-formed cabinet a vote of confidence in Beirut .

Parliament members give the newly-formed cabinet a vote of confidence in Beirut .

REUTERS/Sharif Karim

01 September 2016

BEIRUT: The Metn trash crisis appears set to deepen, with no solutions arising from a Wednesday parliamentary committee meeting dedicated to resolving Lebanon’s garbage woes.

MP Hagop Pakradounian walked out of the Finance and Budget Subcommittee meeting before it finished.

“The solutions proposed today were temporary and we refuse that Burj Hammoud be held responsible for the waste,” Pakradounian said after withdrawing. He blasted politicians for not shouldering their responsibilities. “With regret, I must tell the families of Kesrouan, Metn and parts of Beirut that the trash will remain piled up in the streets because, as we heard, there are politicians running away from their responsibilities.”

Subcommittee head MP Ibrahim Kanaan gave a routine statement following the session, telling reporters that the trash would be taken off the streets.

“We made a decision that the trash must be taken off the streets with urgency,” Kanaan said, arguing that the temporary Burj Hammoud dump site should be reopened – putting him at odds with Pakradounian.

Burj Hammoud was also home to a national landfill, intended as temporary solution, which closed in 1997. “For those who do not know, Burj Hammoud is not only an Armenian area; rather it is a mix of religions and political affiliations of both Lebanese and non-Lebanese,” Pakradounian said. “Let every region take on its responsibilities, for we will not allow any trash to be dumped, buried or stored in Burj Hammoud any longer.”

Pakradounian added that the area has already had to put up with pollution from the old mountain of trash, with sewage spilling into the sea and affecting local plant life for some time.

“The first demand we had for using Burj Hammoud as a temporary solution this time was that the mountain of trash caused by the landfill we closed in 1997 be removed, and until this day, no one has spoken about this matter,” Pakradounian said. He added that the landfill would remain closed until a plan agreed upon by the Cabinet was enforced. In response to a suggestion that solutions were readily available, Pakradounian told reporters to “ask the MPs who are still inside, having fun.”

But Kanaan said the Burj Hammoud landfill should be reopened, arguing that there is currently no alternative. “The main problem is the treatment of the waste on the seaside, and we will follow up on this issue with relevant officials in the coming hours, in order to implement what we agreed on and put in place the operational frameworks.”

He said that municipalities are not yet capable of receiving or managing their own waste. “We are going to discuss with municipal unions the degree to which they are able to rely on the decentralization option in treating their waste.”

In his concluding remarks, Kanaan said that there was dialogue with the Tashnag Party, which Pakradounian heads, rather than disagreement. “We are facing reality today in this problem, and in order for us to overcome these problems, each side must move forward.”

Education Minister Elias Bou Saab, Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb, Kataeb Party chief MP Sami Gemayel, and a number of Metn lawmakers were also present at the meeting. As he headed into Parliament, Bou Saab said that while decentralization is the ultimate solution, an interim fix is necessary.

Speaking to reporters after a news conference Wednesday, Chehayeb briefly touched on the crisis. “Although the solutions agreed upon by the Cabinet are not ideal, they were the most appropriate. We do not want the nation to drown in trash, therefore the present solution was the only option available,” he said.

The committee’s meetings come on the heels of renewed waste management problems in Metn. The temporary solution approved by the Cabinet in March was supposed to last for four years, giving the government time to develop a long-term plan to tackle the country’s waste issues.

But politicians have been deadlocked since protests led by the Kataeb Party forced a halt to construction at the Burj Hammoud site.

Following the protests, the Burj Hammoud municipality closed the adjacent temporary dump site used to store trash from Metn and some parts of Beirut until construction of the sanitary landfill resumes. The move was supported by the Tashnag Party.

Sukleen, the waste contractor for greater Beirut and Mount Lebanon, announced after the decision that it would not collect trash in areas using the dump, citing a lack of alternative storage facilities.

Trash soon began accumulating in the streets of Metn. Incidents of residents burning the garbage have also been reported.

© Copyright The Daily Star 2016.

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