Lebanon is a Failed State
Lebanon, by all means, is a failed state. Never has this been clearer than the past few months. Barbaric murders every other week, garbage drowning city streets and spaces, a cabinet too caught up in its in-fighting to do anything, an empty presidential seat, a parliament that’s only good for extending for itself illegally, and the list goes on and on.
We cannot forget the police state aspect of the country either. Vicious criminals and repeat-offenders roam the streets unabated, armed to the teeth, while defenseless university students are arrested unlawfully for writing a Facebook status, being gay or smoking a joint just so the police, lawyers and judges involved in these cases can cash in on the bribes.
But perhaps, the most obvious problem that needs immediate solutions is the garbage one. Lebanon’s inept consecutive governments have kicked the solution for waste management in the country much like a kid kicks around an empty soda can on the sidewalk: it’s not going anywhere, you’re gonna have to kick it again.
The main reason, apart from the ministers being unqualified, is of course the ungodly amounts of money that waste collection and “treatment” generates in Lebanon to a select few, while the overwhelming majority are left at the mercy of the giant extortionists like Sukleen and its partners and political godfathers.
But, it seems Sukleen has branched its tentacles to other countries, and is fed up with us (praise the trash collection lords!), but instead of the government doing the right thing, they’re still figuring out which method will make them the most money, and how to divide it amongst themselves (much like the food safety scare, which it turns out was only to shift hands of lucrative businesses like slaughterhouses, from one politician’s hands to the other’s).
Successful “Illegal Initiatives”
Because Lebanon is a failed state, many things that needed to happen, happened without the government playing any role in them. Of course, technically, it was illegal, but it did bring about a better outcome for everyone, and forced the government to catch up and “allow” them to continue. I will demonstrate a few below which I am familiar with, but forgive me for not providing enough links and sources, I am currently not in Beirut and the data available online is minimal.
Electricte de Zahle’s 24/7 Power
It’s the 15th year into the 21st century, and Lebanon still doesn’t have 24 hour electricity. This issue is so absurd, that many of us often forget how blatantly unacceptable it is, given how much money and time has been sunk into it.
The reason the electricity sector is so bad, is that only Electricite du Liban (EDL) has the “exclusive right” to generate electricity in Lebanon. This extreme penchant for monopolies and exclusive rights is what plagues most sectors in Lebanon, and makes the average taxpayer dread “privatization”, since in Lebanon, that usually means Hariri or Berri or Junblatt taking over a public industry and driving it into the ground, while reaping the massive rewards themselves for themselves and their constituents.
Electricite De Zahle was fed up with pleas to let it produce electricity for its region, 24/7, for cheaper, which was refused time and again by the government. Finally, earlier last year, they made that dream come true, and despite the government not daring to stop them, it sat idly by and watched the “generator” mafias shoot transformers and issue threats, in a both exceptionally rude and extravagantly illegal move.
Bottom line though, the mafias eventually gave up, and the government has remained silent, but the residents of greater Zahle are the lucky ones who have 24h power, and pay only one, affordable electrical bill.
Dhour Chweir Municipality
I met minister of education, Elias Bousaab, in Washington DC when he was still the advisor to foreign minister Gebran Bassil in 2012. I remember back then being highly impressed with his pragmatic approach, and ability to find solutions when the usual political class in Lebanon is too busy making fools out of themselves.
Bousaab was the municipality chief of Dhour Chweir, and under his watch, the municipal authorities bought out all the illegal generators “moteur el 7ay”. They centralized them and put a fixed price for every kWh. This meant that the streets were illuminated 24/7, and other infrastructure that needs power, like water management, also ran non-stop. This also meant that even if the price of diesel fuel went up, the citizens of Dhour Chweir still paid the same bill (unlike the 80-150$ some of us pay to the moteurs), and when the price of oil went back down, the municipality was making up for its loss in previous years and the investment it put into buying the generators.
So, all in all, Dhour has 24/7 power. However, everything about the solution is technically illegal, just like the moteurs. Instead though, the problem was handled pragmatically, and ultimately to the benefit of the tapayers in the jurisdiction of Dhour. The government stayed out of it.
The dawn of plastic payment took a while to get to Lebanon. Governments couldn’t agree on putting down laws that would regulate the use of credit cards in Lebanon. This is of course catastrophic in a country that relies heavily on its banking sector. The banks though, didn’t wait for the laws to come out, and they started issuing credit cards to their customers. Soon enough, a series of memos from the Central Bank sought to regulate this banking service, before more permanent and comprehensive legislation was passed (I think).
Live Love Lebanon
Live Love Beirut is the perfect example of how normal people can do something the right way, then collaborate with the government to push it. The old ads for tourism in Lebanon used to make me cringe, and I never felt they truly represented Lebanon. Live Love Lebanon however, does that marvellously with hundreds of thousands of photos from all over Lebanon by tens of thousands of Lebanese.
Eventually, the Tourism Ministry adopted it, and gave it the extra push us normal people can’t easily obtain, like airtime on major satellite TV stations and a website and infrastructure to go with it.
Therefore, We Need You Industrialists
I say industrialists because Naamat Frem comes to mind. I like that man, and vastly respect him as a successful industrialist in Lebanon. Also, because he’s trademarked National Advanced Formula for the Transformation of Trash into Eco-Electricity (NAFTTEE), which is so far, the most realistic way of solving the waste issue without destroying the environment or making us even more indebted.
Take the initiative, work with a few municipalities and get the show running in the next 6 months. Now, everyone is whining and crying about not wanting trash in their districts, but when it transforms into energy, and money in the form of subsidies from the government (wishful thinking, I know) and the sale of recycled plastic, metal and paper, they’ll start reconsidering. Soon enough, like with everything profitable and beneficial to the Lebanese, everyone else will follow suit.
Will anyone stop them? I’d like to see Junblatt or Berri stop that because they want their extremely useless and expensive incinerators to work instead. Will the municipalities be unable to cover the costs? Well, they’ve been paying 130-180$ per ton, I’m pretty sure an industrialist can cut us a better deal than the “Jihad” company behind Sukleen. After all, if the country your companies are in is a massive landfill, that’s bad for everyone, even the richest few.
So, given that we’re one of the most billionaire-concentrated countries, I see no excuse why not. Forget the government and its bickering, let’s take things into our own hands and let them try to catch up. And it’s not only big industrialists, it’s us too. Get 3 garbage bags, and throw your waste accordingly. It’s so easy, monkeys and crows can do it. Food and organic waste in one, plastic and metal in the other, and paper in the third. Super easy, I know you can all do it. Most civilized countries’ residents already do, like here in New York.
This plan would cost us much less than the absurd ideas of exporting our garbage to northern Europe, or multi-billion dollar useless incinerators. It also takes much less time. Above all though, it’ll help decentralize this problem. No more “we don’t want other people’s garbage in our land” or “christian rights are more important than garbage”. It’ll be every district and town’s responsibility to take care of their own garbage, make use of it and preserve people’s health and our environment.
Don’t say there are no solutions, they’re right there. And till then, make sure you UberCycle with Live Love Beirut and Arc en Ciel, and read this cool post by Najib on Blogbaladi on 5 ways to reduce your waste.