Your Excellency, Ministers, Deputies
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am happy to be here at the Serail today for this important event on the first day that the Government is officially back in action after the Council of Ministers' meeting yesterday. And honoured to see so many ministers and deputies here, which both something about Enaya's charm and persistence but also the political nature of this topic.
I am equally happy to be here today to mark this important milestone in the implementation of the programme Upgrading Solid Waste Management Capacities in Lebanon or SWAM.
As anyone who has spent some time in this country will know, solid waste management is not only a technical issue in this country. It is a highly political and emotional topic, and to a certain extent, everyone thinks they have become waste management experts in the past few years. Everyone has their opinion about it. While some times we forget to listen to the real experts.
What is clear, however, is that the solid waste crisis that we saw so clearly when trash over flooded Beirut's streets two years ago, is not yet over. This is why waste management has somehow become the symbol of a public sector service that does not work. What has not been said about waste and waste management in Lebanon? It has most recently again been the subject of a lot of analysis and debate. Last Friday we even had a report from Human Rights Watch on the health risks of open waste burning which claims that this kind of practices breaches the fundamental right to health. But many other reports and analyses over the past years have expressed other or similar concerns.
This is why we were happy to see the Government put a strong focus on this issue in its Ministerial Declaration from early this year. We agree with the Government that this is a key area to focus on. For health and environmental reasons, of course, but also for economic reasons. Because if waste management is done right, it can actually create jobs along the value chain, from collection to treatment and recycling. Waste can be valuable resource.
But we need to do this right. There has been much work done in the past year in developing strategies and action plans. But just as importantly, seen from our point of view, is the need to adopt the new law on Solid Waste Management in Parliament. The country needs a legal framework that is up to date with new technologies and processes. As you know, there is already a draft law in Parliament that was approved by the Council of Ministers in 2012. This draft would, of course, need to be fine-tuned given the latest developments in the sector, and this should happen in full consultation with municipalities and Unions of Municipalities, the civil society and the private sector. The European Union will happy to provide the required assistance and expertise to support the Parliament in this process. And I hope that all of you here today, including the members of Government, will also see to that this law will be adopted.
In the meantime, and this is what we are celebrating today, the European Union and OMSAR will continue our good cooperation working with municipalities around the country for local waste management solutions.
Waste management is a key service provided by Lebanese municipalities. In fact, we realized that when the first municipalities were created in Lebanon in the second half of the 19th century, they had three major tasks: security, lighting and sanitation. So sanitation was one of their very raison d’être and it is only natural to be here today to witness a new chapter in their relationship with the central authorities.
The Government will have to make sure that municipalities are properly equipped with adequate human resources and funding to manage their waste. To be very direct: All the investments that we are making in building infrastructure will be in vain if no long-term formula is developed to provide a steady and fair funding to municipalities to finance the collection and processing of municipal solid wastes. I know I am stating the obvious as many in Lebanon have written about this. Addressing the shortcomings of the Independent Municipal Fund is one urgent action.
Municipalities and Union of Municipalities also need to comply with the local master plans that the Government, through your Ministry your Excellency, will be developing in 2018. A solid waste management plan is the cornerstone of any long-term solution. Within the European Union, developing these plans is a legal obligation for our Member States. The Ministry is, I am sure, ready to provide the required assistance.
What we are celebrating here today is a continuation of a long range of programs that the European Union has had here over the years. The European Union's support to the waste management sector dates back to 2004. Since then, we have so far provided more than 89 million euros to the sector in infrastructure, equipment, but also technical assistance to the Ministry of Environment. Only last week, the European Union approved a new package worth 21 million euros for addressing municipal and health wastes in Beirut and Mount Lebanon. And we expect that in 2018, a new programme will be developed to support innovation, entrepreneurship and private sector development in the green economy, in particular renewable energies and wastes.
For almost 10 years, we have had a very close cooperation with the Office of the Minister of State for Administrative Reform (OMSAR), today represented by Minister Ezzedine, in this sector. We have managed to gain much experience and in some cases also learned important lessons that we now incorporate in our new programmes. Also, at the request of OMSAR, we have been providing technical assistance since October to enhance its capacities as it is recruiting additional technical staff. And we look forward to cooperating with you on this second phase of SWAM, or SWAM II.
As a consensus is yet to be crafted for a long-term solution to this critical environmental problem, the European Union will ensure that the conditions are in place to ascertain that our funding will be effective and sustainable. We have stepped up our financing to the sector as a result of the Syria crisis and have in the last few years focused on increasing the capacities of municipalities. We are now keen on looking into the structural issues that impede on the development of a sustainable solid waste management system in Lebanon.
Because as Khalil Gibran reminded us: Progress lies not in enhancing what is, but in advancing toward what will be. He reminds us about the imperative to look ahead when one is determined to addressing problems. We are determined to help all those who have the will to progress. I know that you are, Your Excellency. You and your team have demonstrated unparalleled resilience in the face of the challenge. It is critical that the experience that this ministry has accumulated and the capacities that will be developed in the coming years are sustained. I cannot but encourage the Government to expedite the establishment of a National Solid Waste Management Agency that is being called for in the current draft of the law.
Thank you once again to everyone and mabrouk to all the municipalities present today. We look forward to following the results.