SEATTLE, Washington — For the last five years, Lebanon has been battling a garbage crisis that only worsened with the outbreak of COVID-19. Human Rights Watch cites the beginning of the garbage crisis dating back to 1990, after the end of the Lebanese Civil War. In 1998, the Lebanese established a landfill in Naameh as an emergency solution for Lebanon’s garbage crisis. Although the landfill was supposed to close once it hit capacity, the Lebanese government allowed it to continue housing waste, even though the facility could no longer follow proper disposal procedures. The Naameh landfill stayed operational until 2015 when protests by residents forced its closure.
Lebanese Cities Towering with Trash
During the protests and subsequent closure, garbage piled up on the streets of Naameh, having nowhere else to go. The Lebanese government struggled and still is working to find a solution for the mountains of garbage that began to pile up in the city. The lack of proper waste disposal poses significant health problems for citizens. When the Naameh landfill closed, the Lebanese government opened two new landfills in Bourj Hammoud and Costa Brava as a temporary emergency fix.
However, since 2017 the two landfills became filled to the brim, continuing the garbage crisis and leaving the government to find another solution. The outbreak of COVID-19 has only made fixing the garbage crisis more difficult. Nongovernmental organizations like Arc en Ciel had to take potentially hazardous medical waste from Lebanon to dispose of it elsewhere properly. One hospital bed, according to Al-Monitor, can produce around three pounds of waste a day.
How Lebanon’s Garbage Crisis Worsens Poverty Conditions
As of February 2020, the population living on under four dollars a day in Lebanon increased from 8% in 2019 to 20% in 2020, according to the Ministry of Social Affairs in Lebanon. Additionally, a study by International Medical Corps showed that more than half of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon are living in poverty. While adequate medical care is already difficult for impoverished Lebanese and refugees, the garbage crisis has led to two major health concerns.
The first is the hazardous effects of burning waste, which has become more common as the Lebanese government struggles to contain and dispose of garbage. Human Rights Watch reports burning waste is a proven hazard to those exposed to the emissions. People living close to burning waste facilities have more significant health concerns, typically related to inhalation of smoke from openly-burned waste.
Odors recently reported at the Borj Hommound site are making residents concerned for their health. Additionally, due to the lack of space in landfills, waste is dumped in or near water. U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) writes that the dumping of waste in water has contributed to a deterioration in Lebanon’s water quality. Waterborne diseases have become more prevalent in Lebanon since 2005.
NGOs and Aid Groups Tackle the Lebanon Garbage Crisis
As the access to clean water continues to be expensive in Lebanon, the harmful effects of contaminated water can disproportionately affect more impoverished Lebanese communities and refugees. Currently, the Lebanese government has not released an official plan for handling the situation, instead opting for continual stopgaps and short-term solutions. The Lebanon garbage crisis presents health and safety hazards for citizens, especially those living in poverty and extreme poverty. Thanks to NGOs and aid groups such as Global Waters, access to safe water and sanitation facilities have improved. However, until the government thoroughly tackles the garbage crisis, it poses a threat to those most at risk.
– Sophie Grieser
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