Video: Lebanon admits to dumping garbage into the sea
"The agreement between the contractor and the (governmental) Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) requires reclaiming the sea. Therefore, waste should be buried in the sea," Environment Minister Tareq al-Khatib admitted to reporters on Tuesday.
Khatib said he had sent letters to the CDR to "rectify" the situation and that he was trying to find the "best way to limit" the damage.
The minister made those remarks following a visit to the coastal Burj Hammoud landfill in Beirut's northern suburbs.
Khatib rushed to the site after videos emerged on social media (see below), showing trucks dumping rubbish in the Mediterranean Sea, causing widespread outrage.
"They are taking garbage from this mountain that has been there for 20 years... and throwing it into the sea," Wadih al-Asmar, an activist from the "You Stink" campaign behind the garbage protests in 2015 told AFP.
"Waste is thrown into the open sea and the environment minister justifies it... he gives them the green light," said the "You Stink" campaign.
|Lebanon could be accused by a country like Cyprus of breaking the Barcelona convention|
The Lebanese official, who is in charge of protecting the country's devastated environment, however said that a sea wall should have been constructed by the contractor before beginning to dump waste into waters.
The contractor has cited technical delays for failing to build the structure, which under the agreement is meant to protect the landfill and prevent toxic leakage.
The agreement also requires sorting waste in a special plant, but no sorting is taking place at the site according to environmental groups and opposition party al-Kataeb, MPs of which represent the locality. The minister did not comment on the issue.
"The reclamation of the sea is taking place with untreated waste and entails a risk of leakage of toxic substances," a Kataeb Party source told local French-language daily L'Orient Le Jour, saying the sorting is not taking place because it would cost a fortune. "It's like a scene from Mad Max."
The plan itself, which includes re-opening old coastal landfills and building new ones, has been widely criticised. The controversy has even attracted concern from the European Union, many of whose states overlook the Mediterranean.
The main concern is the possibility of leakage of toxic substances even after sorting and sea protection are in place, through the soil and then eventually into the sea.
Lebanon could be accused by a country like Cyprus of breaking the Barcelona convention, the Kataeb source said, in reference to a treaty signed by Lebanon for the protection of the Mediterranean from waste dumping.
The government has said there is no other near-term solution without temporary landfills while it works on a long-term solution, including the construction of incinerators.
However, environmental groups say Lebanon can better address the issue through recycling and sorting at source, and accuse politicians of exploiting the crisis for profit.
Lebanon experienced a major waste crisis in mid-2015, with garbage piling up in the streets of Beirut and its surroundings after the closure of the country's main landfill.
This crisis triggered mass protests, with many taking aim at politicians in a country that has suffered endemic corruption since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
With input from AFP