- The Environment Minister called Syrian refugees a "ticking time bomb"
- This was after he visited a polluted river in the north of Lebanon
- He said existing infrastructure cannot accommodate the growing number of refugees
- The minister denied the existence of a trash crisis in December
Environment Minister Tarek Khatib Monday referred to Syrian refugees in the country as a “ticking time bomb,” after he visited a polluted river in the north of Lebanon.
After meeting representatives of the affected neighboring villages of Beit Chlala and Bsatin al-Ossi and hearing their concerns, Khatib accused the refugees of dumping waste in Batroun’s al-Jawz river.
“We don’t know when or where [the bomb] is going to explode,” the minister was quoted as saying by the state-run National News Agency. He raised concerns over the growing number of refugees and the inability of the existing infrastructure to accommodate this growth.
Khatib’s visit came on the heels of a report broadcasted by MTV Lebanon Sunday, which showed footage of a waste-infected brown waterfall pouring into the river. The report dubbed al-Jawz as a ‘threatened’ natural treasure.
Sunday’s report also stated that the pollution was due to some 1,200 Syrian refugees living in the Beit Chlala village, alongside only 300 Lebanese residents.
This initial figure of refugees contradicted the number presented by the minister the day after – his was slightly higher, at 1,400.
Khatib said this figure was “sufficient to confirm the reality and the extent of the worsening impact on the environment by displaced Syrian [refugees] in Lebanon.” The minister cited that the municipalities have “modest” budgets and lack the logistical capabilities to accommodate them.
Khatib reportedly said that it was “clear” that Syrian nationals were resorting to throwing waste bags in the river, instead of disposing of them using the bins that are “only a couple of meters away from the camps.”
- Lebanon Polluted Due to Syrian Refugees, Israeli Bombs: Environment Ministry
- The Trash Crisis Does Not Exist: Lebanon's Environment Minister
The footage broadcasted by MTV also showed bags distributed by UNHCR initially filled with relief aid floating in the river.
The UNHCR was unable to give an immediate comment regarding the number of refugees, and could not confirm or deny the accusation.
To pose a solution, the environment minister called for increased security, asking Batroun’s mayor, Marcelino al-Harak, to bolster the municipality’s police or provide financial support to increase the number of officers deployed. This, he said, would help maintain constant surveillance along the river while conducting inspection tours around the camps to manage the situation.
However, the suggested solution only tackles one aspect of more than a decade-long environmental problem Khatib is yet to acknowledge.
In December, Khatib denied Lebanon is experiencing a trash crisis, contradicting reports and studies showing alarming rates of waste-pollution.
According to a 2009 study published by the Lebanese Science Journal, Al-Jawz River already faces chemical contamination at a “critical level” due to waste from nearby factories.
Another study published by AUB in 1999 - well before the Syrian crisis erupted - found traces of untreated domestic sewage and fertilizers polluting the river, confirming the decades-long predicament plaguing the country’s rivers.
Although the findings of the latter study were cited in a 2001 report issued by the Environment Ministry, the ministry continues to insist the refugee influx and the 2006 war with Israel are the only causes of environmental catastrophes threatening the well-being of residents.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
Copyright © 2021, The Daily Star. All rights reserved.