To know more about the green strategies and those that impact public services, Beyond speaks exclusively to Claudine Aoun Roukoz, special advisor to President Michel Aoun.
What long-term solution is in place to deal with Lebanon’s garbage? We cannot rely on landfills, as they serve a short-term solution.
We believe in the decentralization of waste management as a sustainable solution for our garbage crisis in Lebanon. Decentralization induces delegating each region or municipal zone to handle the whole process of waste collection to final disposal passing by a series of procedures to limit waste at the first place and smart segregation and of course recycling and reuse of dumped materials.
Many developed countries enforce recycling of garbage and any household/establishment that does not comply is fined. Can Lebanon enforce this on a national level through each municipality? We are giving tickets to cars parked illegally, why not for garbage thrown recklessly?
Exactly that is our vision that we aspire to implement to solve once and for all this vicious cycle of waste pilling in our streets. As stated before, decentralization is the key, that each municipal zone or union should initiate awareness campaigns to segregate materials and limit waste disposal. This move will help automatically identify recyclable materials and others that need treatment or conversion. I strongly believe that this process will help in limiting significantly the waste in our landfills.
When will we have a wastewater sewage system in place?
Concerning the wastewater, the Ministry of Energy and Water has developed a complete wastewater strategy, which was approved by the Cabinet in October 2012. Responding to your question, this strategy focused on collecting and treating wastewater according to national standards and regional agreements, keeping in mind that only eight percent of wastewater collected is being treated currently. The investment requirements to set up a modern sewage system are still being readied and efforts are being made to mobilize the required funds, which are estimated to be around $3.1 billion.
What will be done to improve household water supply? What reforms (if any) can we expect in this sector?
We know the extreme importance of water as a vital element that must be available to citizens according to the highest standards. Therefore, the Government has proposed a strategy for household water supply. The key challenge in this issue lies in the lack of developed infrastructure that we need and the sources to make water accessible to all citizens. The mismanagement of this resource is also another obstacle hindering the access to consumable water. To create a solution for these issues, the Government has embarked since 2012 on a set of initiatives to solve the lingering problems of water access. It intends to build seven dams, and replace 800 kilometers of obsolete pipelines, while 30 million cubic meters have been mobilized yearly from underground water through drilling and equipping wells. Efforts are underway to muster more funds for additional investments in the sector
Lebanon’s forests are diminishing at an alarming rate. What plans are in place to preserve the existing ones and to do reforestation?
According to new data, we have no real loss of forested and green areas over the country; in fact we still have 13 percent of pure forest cover and 11.5 percent of areas classified other as wooded lands, so we still see around 25 percent of our country having wooded or wild natural zones. NCRS has re-illustrated a new map on green cover in Lebanon and demonstrated that our green cover is still stable, more or less. What we need to be working on is regulating urban expansion over the forests and there are rules that must be set with urban planning authorities to stop that, because this is where the loss really lies. The competent ministry is working on re-forestation to increase the forest cover to 20 percent (from 13 percent), i.e., planting 40 million trees over 70 thousand hectares. In addition to that, the ministry is working actively to recruit more forest rangers on duty and is increasing forest centers to protect these green areas. Moreover, it is being very strict on licensing and controlling any activity related to land reclamation in light of some breaches committed by some investors and abuse of forested areas. Efforts are focused right now towards upgrading the obsolete forestry laws and propose other legislative frameworks to face pressing issues and challenges.
Ugly quarries spoil many green mountainous areas. What can be done to stop this?
It is true that quarries cause extensive damage to nature. In the last years many owners have invested illegally in quarries all around the Lebanese regions in violation to the laws. The State issued a Decree number 1735 that designates limited regions to establish quarries, while taking into consideration environmental standards. The same law prohibits any activity of new quarries in any wild forested or natural reserves designated by the state, and in a move to limit the activities of the quarries the Ministry of the Interior ordered the closure of all illegal quarries working contrary to the law, giving them a grace period to regulate their work and try to sell what they have of existing stock.
There have been some recent efforts to provide longer hours of electricity. What improvements can we expect in the near future?
We already have a plan set up to supply electricity immediately and without delay in addition to long- term plans to sustain the increasing demand of Lebanese citizens. In fact the Ministry of Energy is now completing two power plants in Zouk and Jiyeh. These are going to be inaugurated soon by the President and will be producing 280 MWs which is equivalent to three hours of supply.
Other proposed plans for the short term include renting two powerships producing 800 MWs of electricity, meaning eight additional hours of supply.
In addition to this, the State is planning a bid to provide three governorates with photovoltaic farms, each providing 45 MWs. Furthermore, the Ministry of Energy is also contracting firms to provide wind power that is expected to supply 100 MWs for the grid. Over the long term, more power plants are going to be built according to the PPP concept that will see plants built in Deir Ammar and Sellaata providing 1,000 MWs of electricity.
Construction is notoriously chaotic in Lebanon. Urban planning hardly exists. Can any reforms be expected here?
We are working on it now.
Traffic and overload of vehicles on our streets is only increasing. Are there any plans for more public transportation to reduce cars? Are there any plans towards reducing traffic on our main highway?
First of all, the State is planning to implement a sustainable strategy for public transportation in Beirut and the regions that will help decrease traffic and pollution in the capital in a significant manner. The proposed public transportation strategy is based on a train solution that will service Beirut. Moreover, the President is urging the Government to prioritize the implementation of the Jounieh highway expansion in addition to the strategic circular highway that will service key areas in Lebanon ranging from Khalde in the South to Oquaibe in Keserwane using also in the middle of the highway the bus rapid transit from Khalde to Dbayeh. This plan will certainly mitigate traffic problems on the gates of Beirut and will ensure smooth commuting between the capital and the regions. Moreover, the State is concentrating on urgently rolling out the Téléferique project, which is a vital part of providing public transport to individuals and encouraging them to give up using cars for short-range trips.