BEIRUT: Prime Minister Tammam Salam will convene a Cabinet meeting to discuss an export solution to the trash crisis “within days,” a senior aide told The Daily Star Thursday. Salam chaired at the Grand Serail a meeting of a ministerial committee tasked with arranging the particulars for a final time in the afternoon.
“The committee has finished its work, and the Cabinet will gather within days, hopefully,” the aide said.
Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb, who attended the meeting as a committee member, said the mood was “very good.”
“We delivered our report to Prime Minister Salam,” Chehayeb told reporters afterward.
Details of the plan are scarce, with rumors circulating that it will cost the state $250 per ton to export the country’s garbage, an exorbitant cost to handle waste. The country used to pay the contractor Sukleen an estimated $150 per ton to dispose of Beirut and Mount Lebanon’s waste, a figure that many observers said was already too high.
Chehayeb pushed back against reports about the export cost, saying only they were inflated.
Officials had to abandon two previous proposals to defuse the trash crisis, one over accusations that it reeked of corruption and the other over popular refusals to accommodate sanitary landfills established by the state. Salam will likely look for unanimous consent among Cabinet ministers to begin exporting, considering his government’s frailty.
The Cabinet has not met since Sept. 9, over disagreements over the body’s decision-making mechanism in the absence of a president and security appointments.
Former Prime Minister Fouad Siniora, a leading Future Movement figure, deplored the export solution but said the country had no choice but to export. “It is unbelievable, but it is the only way,” he told The Daily Star, adding that he was not aware of price per ton, but “it is reasonable to assume that it will cost more than dealing with [trash] locally.”
He said politicians and environmentalists had warped the public’s reality, inciting them to reject sanitary landfills but tolerate toxic, makeshift dumps, and finally to accept only the most expensive solution to the now five-month-long trash crisis.
“They have deformed the minds of the people, to judge how to weigh options and make decisions,” he said. “When they start to feel the cost [of exporting] in their pockets, perhaps their minds will come back.”
But Education Minister Elias Bou Saab of the Free Patriotic Movement hinted Tuesday his party could withhold its support for exporting, saying it was too costly.
In the five months since normal waste services stopped, trash has piled high along roadways, underneath overpasses, in valleys, and along the Beirut River. Municipalities and private citizens are routinely burning garbage near residential areas, causing carcinogenic pollution levels to climb to over 400 times greater than they were last year.
Services collapsed when authorities closed the country’s main landfill, in Naameh, in July.
Also Thursday, members from the You Stink campaign protested near the ministries of finance and telecommunications to demand the release of hundreds of millions of dollars owed to municipalities.
The protest, which took place on Banks Street in Downtown Beirut, was the second in a series of actions planned for this week to pressure the government to end the five month trash crisis. “We want a transparent solution to the crisis away from mysterious deals … We’re here to tell the government that this situation is dangerous and is affecting our health,” a spokesperson for the group said.
The Interior Ministry on Dec. 3 ordered the distribution of long-awaited telecoms revenues owed to municipalities and municipality unions, after the Cabinet approved three decrees in late November amounting to LL1,200 billion ($795 million) in funding owed from 2010 to May 31, 2014.
But the offices of the Beirut and Hazmieh municipalities reported to The Daily Star earlier this week that they still had not seen any of the promised money. – Additional reporting by Louay Faour.