MOHAMED CHEBARO December 09, 2021
The dust has now settled on last month’s COP26 climate change summit in Glasgow, with the result being a clearly limited, cosmetic improvement in our chances of surviving the climate crisis beyond 2050, since the pledges continue to fall short of what is needed. Actions to curb methane levels, to help abandon coal use or to curb deforestation and promote afforestation remain too limited and marred by international discord, particularly differences between rich and poor nations and between the Global North and the Global South.
But don’t worry. Lebanon, the little Mediterranean Arab nation, despite its historically unprecedented economic meltdown, sees in its demise a perfect opportunity to improve the country’s environmental policies and tackle its festering waste management crisis.
Environment Minister Nasser Yassin, an academic who was appointed to Lebanon’s so-called “apolitical” technocrat government under Prime Minister Najib Mikati in September, said that the cash-strapped state should turn away from big and expensive waste management contracts toward a more rational, recycling-oriented local approach.
“The financial crisis makes it difficult to manage the waste issue but it is also an opportunity… if we manage this sector and put it back in the hands of local authorities that do not seek profit,” Yassin told AFP in an interview last month.
The minister apparently thinks that the time has come to map out a puzzle of sustainable partnerships between local authorities and economic players in the divided country. He hopes to establish, for example, a new partnership with the syndicate of paper industries, whereby paper waste can be bought for a set price and recycled. Yassin also cited plans for Beirut’s fruit and vegetable waste to be turned into compost for the farming sector.
Though Yassin stated that the country generates about 40 percent less waste due to the economic crisis, the waste disposal problem has remained unresolved since 2015, when the country’s main rubbish management contracts collapsed due to differences between the political elites over how to distribute the spoils. This saw the country drowning in its own garbage for months.
Since then, as the major waste treatment plants have been going bankrupt, wildcat landfill sites, which often incinerate their trash or dump it in the sea or in rivers without any care for people’s health or well-being, have mushroomed.
One must commend the insight and the foresight of ministers like Yassin, who are capable of talking about a better future for those who might survive Lebanon’s multiple crises. Just to remind the minister, we are talking here about a country that is suffering from a political stalemate after the rise of Hezbollah as the key powerbroker, which is interested only in serving the agenda of its patrons in Syria and Iran.
Therefore, Lebanon’s government, in which Yassin serves, is labelled as Hezbollah’s government. It is not interested in solving the urgent problems, let alone the long-term ones. The complete meltdown of the economy over the past two years was long in the making due to the corruption and mismanagement of the de facto rulers of the country and their domestic and regional masters.
The situation in Lebanon, which has defaulted on its debts internationally and seen its currency lose more than 90 percent of its value, has been ranked by the World Bank as likely among the three most severe crises globally since the mid-19th century.
The International Monetary Fund has offered assistance, but the same domestic political barons have failed to form a government that could deliver the needed reforms that would allow foreign aid to reach the country. According to the World Bank, the nation’s economy contracted by 7 percent in 2019 and then 20 percent in 2020. The only solution the Lebanese authorities — that President Michel Aoun has been hailing as “the strong regime” — have put in place in an attempt to ease the crisis is to place the entire burden on small depositors by freezing their assets, sending the country’s not-so-perfect banking system, which was an important driver of the economy, into freefall.
This bankrupt state has been unable to settle many of its bills, leaving the country without power, medicine and other vital supplies. This has led to a sharp deterioration in the provision of basic services, such as hospital care, education and safety, and has encouraged those who can to migrate. All leading worldwide institutions have said this will damage Lebanon permanently, with the loss of human capital particularly hard to recover from.
But the Lebanese need not worry, as the environment minister thinks that every crisis carries in its midst limitless new opportunities. Perhaps the polluted air caused by the diesel-powered electric generators people are using to replace the nonexistent national power grid might help make the people’s lungs more resistant to pulmonary diseases.
This bankrupt state has been unable to settle many of its bills, leaving the country without power, medicine and other vital supplies.
Some employees in Lebanon are surviving on less than $100 a month, teachers and nurses even less, while doctors are increasingly looking for work abroad and parents can no longer afford school or university tuition fees. But using the same reasoning as the environment minister, if the population goes hungry, then maybe that fasting can be a means to bolster their immunity and general well-being.
In short, I want to hang on to any positive spin from Lebanon’s ruling elite that regeneration is possible despite the desperate state of affairs being experienced by the country and its people. The problem, however, is that the writing on the wall has been clear for the past two decades at least.
Waste and graft, which have been the order of the day for the de facto rulers of Lebanon for so long, are to blame, not the COVID-19 pandemic, the port of Beirut explosion, the Syrian civil war, the Israeli occupation of Palestine or colonialism. This was authored by a political class that has no regard for basic human dignity and is used to kidnapping and holding hostage the people, state and society for its own higher, holiest and nonhuman but greener economic goals.
- Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years of experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.
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