Lebanon’s waste management crisis dates back several decades but attracted global attention in 2015. The country’s waste management history is replete with a pattern of poor government planning and management, inadequate support and oversight, overuse of landfills, open dumping and burning, and a lack of adequate funding from internal and external sources. Lebanon has failed to implement a national solid waste management plan that encompasses the entire country. Based on data collected by the Ministry of Environment and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) there are 941 open dumps in the country and 150 are openly burned at least once a week. Research conducted by the American University of Beirut reports that seventy-seven percent of Lebanon’s waste is openly dumped or landfilled despite researchers stating that only ten to twelve percent of Lebanon’s waste cannot be composted or recycled.
Lebanon’s cabinet approved a draft law in 2012 that would have created a single Solid Waste Management Board that would be responsible for the national-level decision making about waste treatment. Unfortunately, parliament has not passed the bill, so the country is still struggling to address its waste management crisis. The country has also failed to protect and warn its citizens about the devastating health consequences of living near openly burned dumps. Open burning of waste causes both short-term and long-term health problems, especially in vulnerable populations such as children and the elderly.
A range of scientific studies have been conducted to determine the health risks associated with open burning. The emissions from open burning exposes people to “fine particles, dioxins, volatile organic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon, and polychlorinated biphenlys.” The health consequences of being exposed to these pollutants include heart disease, cancer, skin diseases, asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, and respiratory illnesses among others. The health risks are exacerbated because Lebanon rarely disposes of industrial and healthcare waste properly, so hazardous waste becomes mixed in with the solid waste stream and gets openly burned with other waste. The dangers of open burning are readily apparent and completely avoidable by implementing a solid waste plan that respects the environment and health laws.
Lebanon has also failed to warn its citizens about the risks associated with open burning and the safety precautions they should be taking to avoid the long-term health consequences. Lebanon is a party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), which requires them to take steps to achieve “the right of everyone to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.” Under Article 12, “the steps to be taken by the States Parties to the present Covenant to achieve full realization of this rights shall include those necessary for: . . . (b) the improvement of all aspects of environmental and industrial hygiene.” The lack of education provided about the health risks is also causing psychological trauma as individuals are unsure if the exposure will lead to cancer in the future. Lebanon is completely failing to abide by their obligations under the ICESCR and is continuing to endanger the lives of its citizens.
Lebanon’s failure to take appropriate steps to address their waste management crisis and to educate the population about the health risks and safety precautions is in direct violation of the ICESCR. The country has discussed a long-term solution to the crisis and proposed creating incineration plants. Unfortunately, incineration plants do not solve the overall problem, as public health experts have already expressed concerns about the long-term consequences of using incineration plants. The use of incineration plants does not solve the lack of an effective waste management framework, lack of monitoring and funds, and still would create unhealthy emissions. Lebanon must end the open burning of waste, implement an effective plan that abides by environmental and health regulations, ensure the citizens are properly educated about the risks being exposed and ensure any health repercussions are addressed.