In December 2017, Human Rights Watch issued a 67-page report, “‘As If You’re Inhaling Your Death’: The Health Risks of Burning Waste in Lebanon,” finding that authorities’ lack of action to end open burning of waste across Lebanon is posing serious health risks for nearby residents, violating their right to health under international law. Open burning of waste is a dangerous and avoidable 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, says the organisation.
“Through this campaign we want to raise awareness about the ongoing danger open burning poses to families across Lebanon, and of the need for urgent action to stop open burning and adopt a sustainable long-term strategy,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Open burning is one symptom of the larger waste management crisis in Lebanon and is a serious threat to public health.”
On January 9, the health minister ordered the inspection of open dumps across Lebanon for violations, stressing the prohibition on open burning. On January 11, the cabinet approved a waste management plan, presented by the Environment Ministry, that outlines a decentralised waste management system; stresses reduction, sorting, and recycling; and calls for gradually closing and rehabilitating open dumps. The Environment Ministry is developing a detailed national strategy on the basis of this plan.
Lebanon does not have a solid waste management law or strategy for the entire country. In the 1990s, the central government arranged for waste collection and disposal in Beirut and Mount Lebanon but left other municipalities to fend for themselves without adequate oversight, financial support, or technical expertise. As a result, dumping flourished across the country, with open burning of waste taking place at 150 dumps every week according to the Environment Ministry. The open burning disproportionately takes place in lower income areas, Human Rights Watch found.
Lebanon’s cabinet approved a draft law in 2012 that would create a single Solid Waste Management Board, headed by the Environment Ministry, responsible for national-level decision-making and waste treatment, while leaving waste collection to local authorities. However, parliament has not passed the bill. The joint committees of parliament considered an amended draft of that law on January 9, and returned it to the environment committee for further amendments.
The Environment Ministry says that open burning violates Lebanon’s own environmental protection laws. The government’s lack of effective action to address the issue also violates Lebanon’s obligations under international law, including the government’s duties to respect, protect, and fulfil the right to health. Human Rights Watch found that the Environment Ministry lacks the necessary personnel and financial resources for effective environmental monitoring.
According to researchers at the American University of Beirut, 77 percent of Lebanon’s waste is either openly dumped or sent to landfills even though they estimate that more than 80 percent could be composted or recycled.