Lebanon: Burning Trash Poses Serious Health Risk

Lebanese municipalities are endangering the health of residents by openly burning waste despite the passage of a national solid waste management law banning the practice. 

(Beirut) – Lebanon’s Justice Minister Salim Jreissati has issued the list of public prosecutors and investigative judges for environmental cases, Human Rights Watch said today. Residents can now address their complaints and report violations to the environmental public prosecutor in their governorate.

“The minister’s appointment of environmental prosecutors signals his commitment to the health of Lebanon’s residents,” said Lama Fakih, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “These appointments are key for ensuring that those who violate laws on waste management are held to account and those who suffer as a result have a pathway for redress.”

Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to the justice minister on January 16, 2019, urging him to publicly announce the names of the environmental prosecutors for each governorate, as decreed by Law 251/2014, and underscoring the importance of  this step for enforcing the national solid waste management law. The law was passed on September 24, 2018, following decades of mismanagement of solid waste. Lebanon’s waste crisis gained international notoriety in 2015, when garbage overflowed in the streets of Beirut.

Despite the law’s ban on open dumping and burning of waste, Human Rights Watch has found that Lebanese municipalities continue to engage in these practices. Residents living near open dumps where waste was burned have told Human Rights Watch they suffered from a variety of health problems that they attributed to the burning and inhalation of smoke, including respiratory illnesses, asthma, skin diseases, and heart disease. The practice violates Lebanon’s obligations under international law, including the government’s duty to respect, protect, and fulfill the right to health.

The judiciary has a key role to play in ensuring adherence to the law through investigating complaints from residents and the Environment Ministry, and appropriately penalizing violators. Residents who see environmental violations, such as the open dumping and burning of waste, can complete a complaints form set up by the Environment Ministry and submit the complaint either through courier or by hand to the dedicated environmental public prosecutors in their governorate. 

The justice minister should ensure that all of the prosecutors have adequate resources to investigate the complaints they receive in a timely manner so that violators can be held accountable.