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Open Letter to  Bilal Hamad: President of Beirut’s Municipal Council

Najat Rizk shared Jad Chaaban post

Share now! Municipalities have to take full responsibilities.

Beirut, 27 August 2015 Open Letter to Mr. Bilal Hamad, President of the Municipal Council of Beirut Dear Mr. Hamad, I am writing to you as a Lebanese citizen and…

Beirut, 27 August 2015

I am writing to you as a Lebanese citizen and taxpayer, and a permanent resident of Beirut.

I did not vote to elect you for the Municipal Council, because of our country’s twisted and sectarian election laws that do not allow us to elect our representatives based on our main area of residence.

Nevertheless I believe it is my right to address you as the only elected municipal representative in the city where I live.

And my main complaint is pretty straightforward: Either you and the municipal council take concrete actions to resolve the waste crisis immediately, or you should resign.

I like many of my fellow Beirut residents, Lebanese or foreigners, am a law-abiding citizen, who pays a lot of taxes to finance your and other civil servants’ salaries and expenses.

In fact I have calculated that as much as 30% of my income is swiped away by taxes (income tax, Value Added Tax (VAT), benzene tax, mobile phone tax, Beirut municipal taxes – which by the way are 50$/month! – etc…).

This comes on top of having to pay two bills for every public service, which in other countries are typically provided by municipalities: 1. I have to buy additional electricity (Beirut municipality doesn’t provide any);

2. I have to buy drinking water in gallons (Beirut municipality doesn’t provide good quality tap water);

3.  I need to have a car to go anywhere (Beirut municipality doesn’t have an efficient public transport system); and the list goes on!

I am not expecting you and your council to solve all of these issues now (although I believe this can be done, look at some other cities in Lebanon!), but the least you can do immediately is to address the trash issue, before this also becomes a public service that we have to pay two or three times more for it to be resolved!

You will tell me that all of this is none of your business, as almost all public services in the city are handled by the central Government.

You will also tell me that the city of Beirut has a peculiar governance structure, where the Government-appointed Beirut Governor shares executive powers with the municipality.

You will also mention that your municipality has a limited budget ($1.5 billion as former minister Charbel Nahas stated), and no space to handle waste treatment, thus the need to find another area in Lebanon to dump our waste on it.

Well Mr. President all of these arguments are invalid.

There is nothing that prevents you from offering public services, even if this were to go against the wishes of the central government.

The city of Zahleh has electricity (24/24 and people there pay only $20 per ton compared to $160 in Beirut) ,

Jbeil has electric cars in the old town,

And Saida has its own freaking waste treatment plant!

Since the beginning of the current crisis several Lebanese municipalities have already engaged in sorting household waste at source and recycling.

If there is a will there is a way, and no one can prevent your Municipal Council from actively engaging in any public service, especially waste management. Go ahead and you will have mine and all of the Beirut residents’ (voters and non-voters) support.

Also don’t tell me there is no money and space. Your municipality has a cash reserve of 1.2 billion USD, 170 times the budget allocated to the Ministry of Environment!

But somehow during your tenure you only found money (and executive powers!) to close down one of Beirut’s last public green spaces (the Dalieh), to install controversial surveillance cameras, and to expropriate land and public parks to build controversial highways (Fouad Boustros Boulevard) and parking lots!

Mr. Hamad you and the Beirut Municipal Council are requested to implement immediately a waste management plan that in my (and many experts’) opinion consists of the following:
1. Implement a city-wide campaign for sorting waste at source, including separation into recyclables, organic, and non-recyclable items. This would immediately reduce the amount of garbage on the streets and engage Beirut residents as partners in the solution. If you want tips on how this is done, please call the municipalities of Roumieh, Bekfaya, Joun, Arsoun, and many others.
2. Upgrade the existing waste treatment plants of Karantina into more efficient ones: Once the amount of garbage is reduced through sorting, the existing plants (which fall under the municipality’s jurisdiction) could be easily turned into more efficient waste treatment facilities, therefore minimizing the amount of trash that has to be dumped. By producing better compost and extracting more recyclables, we can minimize the percent of trash currently going to landfills from 75% to only 15%!

The only solution for the waste crisis is that municipalities take back their executive powers and implement sustainable and responsible solutions. If you and your colleagues at the Beirut Municipality cannot do this, then I invite you all to submit your resignations immediately.


Jad Chaaban
Beirut resident and Lebanese economist


Its Mass Transit Plan Dead, Car-Obsessed Beirut Plans More Highways

In Lebanon, there is one car for every two people. Photo credit: objectivised via Flickr (More likely two cars for a single adult person)

Arranging a meeting in Beirut is a complicated affair. With few street addresses, directions are often given according to proximity to major landmarks, usually taking at least one or two phone calls as you close in the location.

Coordinating an exact time is also an art; depending on the day and time — or just dumb luck — the unpredictability of the city’s traffic could mean you arrive an hour late, an hour early, or sometimes, not at all.

There’s a very simple reason for all this gridlock: an insane number of cars.

For a developing country, Lebanon’s car-ownership rates are off the charts, with approximately one car for every two individuals, according to a Harvard University study.

Compare that to Turkey, where there’s one car for every seven people, or South Africa, where there’s one for every five.

All these cars spend hours jammed onto a single north-south artery that runs the length of the 200-kilometer Mediterranean strip connecting Beirut to the cities of Tripoli and Jounieh to the north, and Saida and Tyre in the south.

More than 250,000 make the commute into Beirut for work daily, (in a country of less than 4 million) adding stress to the already overstretched grid. The congestion, found the Harvard study, causes $2 billion per year in lost productivity.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Dr. Tammam Nakkash, a managing partner at TEAM International, an engineering and management consultancy, was one of the original architects of a proposal for a comprehensive Greater Beirut Transport Plan.

The proposal, originally drafted in 1994 amid a flurry of government initiatives to rebuild the city after Lebanon’s 15-year civil war, hinged on a public transport scheme that included bus rapid transit lines and a revival of the city’s destroyed tramways. The plan was divided into short- and long-term phases, and addressed traffic management, corridor improvement and parking.

That plan is now collecting dust in the bowels of the Ministry of Public Works and Transportation.

After a series of amendments and a promise from the World Bank for funding that was ultimately redirected, the project lost steam, eventually hobbling its way into parliament in 2011 and stalling at the cabinet level, where it effectively died.

There was a very myopic vision for public transport,” says Nakkash. “Buses are very easy to procure, but they didn’t think about the difficulties in having the right institutional frameworks — in terms of having private operators, but a public regulator thinking about safety, fair competition, service provision, etc.”

With little hope for a public transport overhaul anytime soon, smaller scale ideas are being floated.

One involves utilizing the country’s system of shared taxis, called “service” cars, which operate sort of like a cross between a bus and a cab, picking up customers according to the route others are already taking.

Passengers hail the taxis and tell the driver their destination; they are then accepted on the basis of whether the other passengers already on board are going that way.  (Mostly in Beirut and large cities such as Tripoli)

The system is widely used and without it life on Beirut’s streets would be worse than it already is.

Fees are set at a flat fare of 2,000 LL ($1.30) for one trip, making it affordable and democratic.  (Compare this fare for half a dollar 2 years ago)

The highly informal service is unregulated, with drivers neither registered as public transport providers and cars not subject to any safety standards or checks. Nakkash says the system could work as a “feeder” network to a broader public transport system if properly regulated.

“The great thing about this service is it increases vehicle occupancy,” he says, “but it follows fixed routes so passengers know where the trip starts and ends, and there should only be specific areas for passenger stops, which again needs enforcement.”

Another option, road widening and the construction of new highways, seems to be getting faster approval for development, but it’s not without controversy.

One new arterial, the Fouad Boutros Highway, already undergoing a feasibility study and set for approval this summer, will see a 13-kilometer, four-lane highway run through the northeastern Achrafiyeh area, and according to Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad, will alleviate traffic by opening up the northern entrance to the city and in the inner streets of the neighborhood.

Some 3,000 people have signed an online petition against the development, arguing that it will increase traffic and destroy some 30 local heritage buildings, cutting through some of the city’s rare green spaces and groves.

“It is a missing link in the network, it’s true, but that’s the only argument I have heard for the project,” said Nakkash. “But you don’t achieve anything by expanding highways except putting more people on them.”

Resilient Cities is made possible with support from The Rockefeller Foundation.




June 2023

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