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Natural, not neutral

Activists and industries advocate a new way forward for Lebanon

by Nathanael Massey

Nabil Habayeb

President and CEO,  General Electric Middle East

Nabil Habayeb - President and CEO, General Electric Middle East

The environmental problems in the Middle East are huge, and as of yet we still don’t have a common approach to resolve them. As a technology provider, we at GE are doing everything we can to address these issues, but the key thing is implementation of policies and solutions.

This will require a good understanding of the problem by the leadership, a commitment to resolve the problems, and a partnership with all stakeholders — public, private, non-governmental organizations, governmental and financiers — to act accordingly. The main thing is to make sure that we bring awareness and solutions, and have a debate, and come up with reports that focus on the region’s specific issues, in which the different sectors can take an interest.

Five years ago our chairman started the “Ecomagination” initiative, which takes the products that we have and invests in solutions that are environmentally friendly. These products have to go through several kinds of certification to ensure that we reduce gasses, purify water, have more efficient power generation equipment and produce sustainable energy…so, from a company point of view, we’re doing what we think is our responsibility, not just from a corporate social responsibility perspective — of course we have shareholders who will be looking for their return since we are not an NGO. A company like ours can now develop products that are environmentally safe and at the same time profitable. That is why we dub the initiative “Green is Green.”

Ziad Abichaker

President, Cedar Environmental

Since 1992 our country has been under an emergency plan for solid waste collection and disposal — an emergency plan that lasts 17 years?  Something is amiss here. First, the plan has 50 percent of Lebanon’s waste centralized in one landfill site; it was Bourj Hammoud until 1997 and since then it has been Naameh. Soon, space will no longer be available to keep on this environmentally destructive path in Naameh and an alternative would be in order.

There are two alternatives.  Either we keep extending the current “emergency” plan and keep centralizing waste disposal in a mega landfill or we decide to reverse the road and start doing what most other countries are doing, which is sorting, recycling and composting.  Some would argue that we are doing this now under the current plan, but what they don’t know is that we are barely doing this for 6 percent of our total daily waste load.

Soon, it will be a nearly impossible task to convince another region to accommodate the waste of Beirut and Mount Lebanon in their valleys and open spaces, which makes the alternative of continuing with the current plan practically impossible to pursue.

Every region will have to select a technology that will have the least destructive footprint geographically and environmentally. The problem is it might already be too late. Such an endeavor would require at least a two year planning and execution period.  Are the people in charge of the solid waste file doing any thinking about this eventuality?

Garabed Kazanjian

Oceans campaigner, Greenpeace, Lebanon Branch

Garabed Kazanjian - Oceans campaigner, Greenpeace, Lebanon Branch

It is astounding to see a country like Lebanon, which relies greatly on tourism to rebuild its economy, gradually and consistently obliterating its ecotourism assets. Two-thirds of the Lebanese population reside on the coast, a fact that naturally exerts great pressure on coastal resources. Twenty years on after the end of the civil war, solid waste dumps still exist in the form of coastal mountains, constituting a health hazard to the public and a source of toxic discharge to the marine life in their vicinity. Some sites, such as the Saida dump, continue to grow to this date like a cancerous tumor in the absence of waste treatment plans. Moreover, more than 50 pipes continue to discharge untreated sewage on a daily basis into the sea. Chaotic urban development contributes to the destruction of vital marine habitat, primarily the nursery areas of numerous commercially important fish species.

Fragile as our marine ecosystem is, due in great part to the pollution and destruction it is subjected to daily, not to mention the intensely destructive and unsustainable fishing practices throughout the whole Lebanese coast, it will not have the resilience to combat the effects of global catastrophes, primarily climate change and ocean acidification.

That is precisely why Greenpeace is campaigning for the establishment of fully protected marine reserves covering 40 percent of the Mediterranean. These no take/no dump areas (areas protected from both fishing and pollution) aim at protecting vital habitats, such as spawning grounds and nursery areas of threatened marine species, and aid in the recovery of depleted stocks.

Furthermore, the new Lebanese government should impose stricter regulations on coastal industries in regards to their waste disposal, update and implement fishing regulations, and put into practice the zero waste program.

Rima Habib

Associate professor, Faculty of Health Sciences, American University of Beirut

We know that pollutants are responsible for a number of public health problems in Lebanon and beyond… In Akkar in North Lebanon, for example, we performed studies that found evidence of heavy microbiological contamination in water sources, usually as a result of infrastructural problems. In these areas, outbreaks of diarrhea and other symptoms are common… In some communities as much as 80 percent of household water sources can be contaminated, and close to 30 percent of households report sicknesses as a result of contaminated water. Children, of course, are particularly susceptible. This problem is more endemic to rural areas where there is a lack of proper infrastructure to treat and transport water. Another health risk is air pollution. Lebanon is not a highly industrialized country, so the largest contributors to air pollution are traffic emissions, which are usually concentrated in and around urban centers where there is a lot of traffic – Beirut, Tripoli, etc. Air pollution leads to respiratory ailments and to a lesser extent cardiovascular disease as well. Another problem with air pollution is CO2 emissions, of course. To deal with these dangers, it is necessary to apply environmental and public health standards and involve major branches of government…it would be truly excellent if Lebanon could establish a multi-disciplinary agency that involved all the ministries, something like the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States, that has “teeth” to enforce standards and make real changes to address human health from the preventive angle first, meeting possible threats before they result in illness.

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Nathanael Massey


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