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Beirut, Rabat and Tunis: New studies evaluate the cost of environmental degradation due to solid waste mismanagement
By *Hervé Lévite
Solid Waste Management is a Priority
“Solid waste management is a priority in the Mediterranean region”, so said the last joint Horizon 2020 report of the European Environment Agency and UNEP/MAP (May 2014). Better managing solid waste is indeed essential for human wellbeing, control of health risks, limitation of Green House Gases and air pollution. It would also help solving the mounting problem of marine litter. According to data by SWEEP-NET, a regional network created by GIZ in 2009, which gathers information and helps national agencies promote best practices in solid waste management, the situation in the region has been deteriorating over the past 4 years with a 20% increase of non-collected waste and a 5.5 % increase of unsoundly disposal of waste. Numerous reasons are behind these difficulties: high rate of urbanization and changes in the way of life leading to increased waste generation (around 2% per year), low tax recovery level implying feeble investment efforts, and lastly political instability after the Arab spring making public decisions hesitant in contracting private sector operators.
This mismanagement of solid waste also translates in real cost for society. In the 90’s the World Bank was pioneer in supporting evaluations of the cost of environmental degradation (COED) and in 2010 a World Bank report described the history of COED in Middle East and North Africa.
Focus on the Municipal Level
During the third SWEEP-NET forum in Cairo in May 2013, a decision was taken to launch a new kind of studies: “COED due to mismanagement of solid waste at municipal level” for large capital cities of the region. Three cities were chosen for the pilot studies: Beirut, Tunis and Rabat. While these cities, with their suburbs, are rather similar in size (around 2 million inhabitants and producing between 600000 and 1000 000 tons of waste), they substantively differ in terms of solid waste management. In Rabat, solid waste is under the responsibility of the municipality with private companies handling collection and landfilling. In Tunis municipality is in charge of collection while a public agency (ANGed) manages the treatment. In Beirut, the Council for Development and Reconstruction sub-contracts private operators to collect and treat the waste.
The results of these groundbreaking studies were presented in workshop held in Marseille in April 2014, jointly organized by SWEEP-NET and the Center for Mediterranean Integration. The event gathered representatives of municipalities, national environmental agencies and experts from the region. Dr Fadi Doumani and Dr Sherif Arif, the two consultants in charge of the studies brought to the public four main messages:
Cost of Degradation and Opportunity Losses: Beirut, Rabat and Tunis
Source: SWEEP-NET, Cost of environmental degradation due to solid waste management practices at municipal level, 2014.
Great Beirut and Mount Lebanon
The consultation meeting in Marseille was very fruitful. Participants agreed that benchmarking COED was an efficient approach to foster efforts of municipalities and facilitate knowledge exchange. Similarly it was deemed useful to undertake periodic evaluations of the COED to measure progress. For instance, COED due to waste mismanagement in Morocco was reduced from 0.5 % of GDP figures in the 2000s to around 0.1 % in 2012.
Studies showed that it is cost effective to continue efforts of investment in the three cities. To find financial means, huge efforts of cost recovery are necessary (especially for Lebanon) but there is also an urgent need for clarifying responsibilities and working on legal tools and strategies.