You Stink: The Dangerous Implications of the Lebanese Trash Crisis

With so much attention being placed on extremist activities in the Middle East, a pileup of trash in the streets of a highly populated city really isn’t important, relevant, or interesting news at all. Or is it?

Trash being added to a large pile of garbage in Beirut, Lebanon. Bilal Hussein, AP.
Trash being added to a large pile of pesticide-covered garbage in Beirut, Lebanon. Bilal Hussein, AP.

In July of 2015, Lebanon’s largest landfill closed.  Weeks later, the government had not come up with a contingency plan or act proactively on the issue. This, in turn, left thousands of people to live in filth with trash quickly piling up around them.  The true issue, however, is much deeper than the piles of garbage on the streets.  Many citizens used this problem as a means to chastise and protest the dysfunctional, uncooperative government that is, instead of working for the people, working against itself.

Long-winded periods of political unrest have served as a harbinger to issues such as this, which has led to many movements by the people to urge their government to cohere and work with the best interests of the citizens in mind.  One such campaign is the “You Stink” campaign, which, aside from demanding that the garbage issue be acted upon, demanded that the government institute changes to the way it functions.

As of now, the issues are stemming from the obvious divisions between the many religious sects involved in the government, which at this point is a total of 18. According to Lebanese law, the president must be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister Sunni, and the speaker of parliament has to be Shia.  While the Shiites are tied to the militarized group, Hezbollah, and its agenda (which is largely focused on Israel), the Sunnis, led by Tammam Salam, have their own agenda and allies. These conflicting interests create many issues for the Lebanese government as far as policymaking is concerned.

Militaristic group, Hezbollah, marching. Aljazeera.
Lebanese militaristic group, Hezbollah, marching. Aljazeera.

Possibly the most detrimental result of such a lack of cooperation is the fact that, for over a year, Lebanon has been (and still is) without a president.  For 28 consecutive election sessions since April 2014 (the most recent being September 30th, 2015) Hezbollah has boycotted the elections, therefore disallowing quorum to be reached.  This lack of action and cooperation within the government has also opened the country up to be a hot spot for extremist groups such as ISIS, therefore leading to further civil unrest. These issues are why the implications of the garbage issue extend much further than an inconvenience to the people. It is a tangible example of the detriments of the inactivity of the government, which placed even more importance on the success of the campaigns asking for government action.

Although trash removal has resumed, many problems in Lebanon remain unresolved. The governmental dysfunction will continue as long as the parties remain unable to reach consensus. In the mean time, citizens continue to push for their government to actually provide legislation and stability in an area characterized by instability. If the government wants to be able to keep its country and citizens safe from the surrounding danger, cooperation must manifest soon before the country falls susceptible to the grip of radical groups.

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