HRW warns Lebanon against open burning of waste

The vast majority of residents interviewed reported health effects that they attributed to the burning and inhalation of smoke from the open burning of waste

1 December 2017 | 21:33

Source: Annahar

Open burning of waste in Majadel, South Lebanon. (Human Rights Watch Photo)

Beirut: The ongoing waste crisis in Lebanon has resulted in negative effects that are still being revealed, including those outlined in a new report by Human Rights Watch.  

The report focused on the lack of action by authorities to end the open burning of waste across Lebanon. According to the report, this is posing serious health risks for people residing near burning heaps.

“‘As If You’re Inhaling Your Death’: The Health Risks of Burning Waste in Lebanon,” is a 67-page report, which found that Lebanese authorities’ lack of effective action to address widespread open burning of waste and a lack of adequate monitoring or information about the health effects violate Lebanon’s obligations under international law.

Nadim Houry, interim Beirut director at Human Rights Watch, told Annahar that the report is a “warning or an alarm for the Lebanese state to find the necessary solution for the garbage crisis,” adding that “it’s not acceptable to have 150 incinerators in Lebanon.”

The report mentioned that “open burning of waste is dangerous and avoidable, a consequence of the government’s decades-long failure to manage solid waste in a way that respects environmental and health laws designed to protect people.”

In another note, it indicates that the Environment Ministry appears to lack the necessary personnel and financial resources for effective environmental monitoring. 

Dr. Naji Kodeih, a chemical toxicology expert, however, said to Annahar that “the problem is not with the necessary personnel or resources, but with the political will and adequate work that should be performed by the government.”

Kodeih, who worked closely on a number of environmental projects for the Lebanese government, said that the gap is huge on the political level. “We have ministers without any strategies,” he said, adding that “what is needed is an integrated national plan and not temporary projects.”

Temporary management and unsustainable strategies dominate in Lebanon, he mentioned.

HRW’s report emphasizes that Lebanon should end the open burning of waste and carry out a sustainable national waste management strategy that complies with environmental and public health best practices and international law.

“Open burning of waste is harming nearby residents’ health one garbage bag at a time, but authorities are doing virtually nothing to bring this crisis under control,” said Nadim Houry, interim Beirut director at Human Rights Watch.

“People may think the garbage crisis started in 2015, but this has been going on for decades as the government jumps from one emergency plan to the next while largely ignoring the situation outside Beirut and surrounding areas.”

Kodeih mentioned that non-controlled dumps and open burning result in the accumulation of the most dangerous gases, such as polycyclic aromatic compounds, nitrogen oxide, and hydrogen sulfide.

He added that they cause air pollution, and cause long-term health effects. They also accumulate in fish and chicken.

While the report also mentions that The Environment Ministry says that open burning of waste violates Lebanon’s own environmental protection laws, Kodeih sees that “the Ministry is not a non-governmental organization that reports the violations, but it’s an official authority that should implement laws and punish those responsible.”

The Environment Ministry and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) provided Human Rights Watch with a map of 617 municipal solid waste uncontrolled dumps across Lebanon, more than 150 of which are burned at least weekly.

According to the Civil Defense, Lebanon’s fire department, open burning also increased in Beirut and Mount Lebanon after the waste management system for those areas collapsed in 2015, including a 330 percent increase in Mount Lebanon. The open burning disproportionately takes place in lower income areas, the map revealed.

The vast majority of residents interviewed reported health effects that they attributed to the burning and inhalation of smoke from the open burning of waste, including respiratory issues such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coughing, throat irritation, and asthma. These symptoms are consistent with exposure to open burning of waste documented in an extensive body of scientific literature.

In order to combat open burning, a coalition constituting of independent civil society organizations is being formed in Lebanon. It will be launched on December 7.


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