Longform /11 May 2019
05.11.19

Growing Link between Lebanon’s Cancer Surge and EU Abetted Corruption

Lebanon’s infamous corruption is swallowing up EU cash for environmental projects which scientists are now calling a “disaster” for health. Money destined for recycling and compost contracts is being diverted by the country’s own anti-corruption agency. But to whom?

Miniyeh was once considered a paradise. People from all over the north of Lebanon for hundreds of years flocked to this valley, just a few kilometers north of Tripoli, along the Lebanese coastline, for its rich land, its natural water, and its beauty. Christians and Muslims here lived in harmony even during Lebanon’s 15-year civil war.

But this town and its surrounding region now have a dark side. For many of its mostly Muslim inhabitants, Miniyeh is the victim of an environmental calamity which is a by-product of the country’s growing corruption frenzy, a looming environmental Armageddon and its murky relations with international aid donors.

Local people are being poisoned by infected well water, following an EU-funded recycling project which, from the very start, was destined to fail due to corruption in central government and a shocking complacency by Brussels to check how its own money was being spent, it has been revealed.

According to an extensive investigation, a cavalcade of environmental experts, academics, anti-corruption activists and whistleblowers, are all pointing the finger at an EU-funded compost and recycling scheme here, which they believe is actually polluting the water for the entire region and threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands of citizens. Remarkably, some are even going as far as to link it to the growing numbers of cancer fatalities in the North of Lebanon.

Our own 18-month long investigation has unearthed that the EU blithely plows millions of dollars into environmental schemes without the slightest interest in how the money is spent – effectively encouraging big business and public officials to gorge themselves on the easy cash available.

Absurdly, at the vortex of that shadowy world is the government’s own anti-corruption department, which, a whistleblower accuses of previously being complicit to the scam over many years, which worries experts here that the entire EU program covering a dozen regions is itself entirely bogus and presents a very real threat to public health.

Film set props

In 2005, a compost and recycling plant was opened in Miniyeh. It was funded entirely by the EU in two stages: construction and operation. Yet right from the outset, the construction was a blatant, crude sham, orchestrated by a company – and given the tender by the Lebanese government’s OMSAR (a ministry responsible for government reform) – whose only role was to produce huge, bogus composting machines; in reality they were just empty drums and merely built for the purposes of producing an allusion to pick up a half a million dollar payout of EU cash. These drums never produced even a handful of compost and years later were to perform a role of allusion with at least three EU ambassadors in Beirut.

11 years later, after the newly arrived (and present) EU ambassador attended a ceremony with dignitaries to inaugurate a new round of financing, they were thrown out.

The huge drums were dumped in a field nearby, looking like redundant props left over from a Star Wars movie. In fact, unbeknown to the hapless EU ‘ambassador’ – a Dane who enjoys the high life in Beirut – they had been sitting in the plant for well over a decade without turning.

Half a million euros was handed over to a company to produce these fake composting drums, which were left in place specifically to fool an EU ambassador (pictured) who was led to believe they function.

But at that farcical ceremony staged for the press in 2016, was a local politician who has been campaigning for four years to change the tendering procedures so such gargantuan corrupt deals can no longer be struck with EU cash. Imad Matar is an unassuming man, humble and uncomfortable in the role of whistleblower, but his incendiary allegations threaten to end the present slack EU funding procedures in Lebanon via OMSAR and to force the EU to be more responsible about how it funds such environmental projects.

“These drums never worked at all. They tried everything to make them work,” he tells me in an interview. “And of course this is suspicious,” he says, smiling, pausing for effect.

Calmly, he says quietly “I believe there has been corruption in acquiring these machines. All visitors who saw the machines agreed that these machines were bogus and acquired just to benefit the supplier.”

So Matar’s local authority which oversees the EU project was left with an entirely sham plant, which was only a sorting plant at best after it swallowed up a staggering 2.5m euros of EU aid in total. Exasperated with naively trying to point out that the entire set up was bogus, both to the EU and OMSAR he then appealed to the UN and UK charity MerciCorps to help ‘complete’ the construction of the plant. The result is a functioning sorting plant but one which had a shoddy composting side, which until now, has been in the open air – a grotesque environmental health hazard in itself.

Yet it is the disruption to the entire region of Miniyeh’s network of small landfill dumps which is also at the heart of what today Matar and a bevy of experts believe, is poisoning the water in the region and infecting local people. Those who controlled the EU tender for the recycling and composting plant chose a singular, large regular landfill dump a couple of kilometers away, higher up, when an environmental impact assessment specifically warned against this, in preference for ‘sanitary’ landfills.

Matar claims that he also warned the EU chief at the ceremony that this was unwise and even offered to build one himself with local money. “When Christina came here in July 2016, I told her that this facility needs a secondary landfill nearby and we would assume the financing and building of it.”

That awkward moment. Christina Lassen, EU delegation chief of Lebanon, sitting with a distinctly troubled Imad Matar.

Matar and a number of experts I interviewed are all convinced that the compost which the EU-funded plant produced for over a decade, was teaming with deadly bacteria and possibly even dangerous metals. None of the EU plants in Lebanon produce a grade of compost which is even good enough to be sold to farmers, but Miniyeh’s was so badly infected that, after being dumped at this landfill, it poisoned the water table in the entire region.

“Toxic” warning from an expert

Out of five independent water samples from wells the author personally took and handed over to the American University of Beirut’s laboratory, all were contaminated with alarmingly high levels of bacteria, which local officials in Miniyeh believe is responsible for a rise in a number of sicknesses in recent years. One of the country’s most respected eco-toxicologist, Dr. Carol Sukhn of the AUB was shocked when she saw the results of the tests. “This is incredibly high levels of bacteria in these water samples…I mean, it’s basically sewage water which these people are drinking so they are exposed to all kinds of serious illnesses as they are being poisoned and are at risk to even some forms of cancer,” she told me in November 2018.

Water samples which proved to be “basically sewage” according to lab tests and an academic’s assessments.

“If all the 12 [EU funded] plants are failing to produce [good] compost yet there are solid wastes brought to their premises on a daily basis, then this can be considered a disaster on both the environment and on the human health,” she warns more recently in January 2019, after seeing results of a study carried out by the municipality itself. “The 12 sites will be like active landfills but without the specs of the landfills and it will contaminate aquifers, soil & air, to mention few, with all kinds of toxicants. It will have even more [health] implications especially if these solid wastes include hospital rejects, then the effect on human health is tremendous and irreversible,” she warned.

Her chilling warning about hospital rejects is particularly worrying given that one EU plant in the south was mired in a scandal involving hospital waste.

For Miniyeh though, the academic warns that the levels were “over a hundred times” above what the minimal levels of acceptable bacterial levels are recommended by international health organizations but adds further concerns about the dire implications of the tests: “What worries me is that with these high levels of bacteria, there could also be heavy metals in the water which is even more serious,” she adds.

Experts agree that an acceptable model of composting is that sites produce 80 percent of good quality compost and accept that 20 percent is bad. But not one EU funded site can come anywhere near to this figure, according to our research. In the case of Miniyeh, which collects 60 tonnes of garbage a day, about 70% of it brought in is processed for compost while the remainder goes straight back to the landfill. Both categories are contaminated though and have resulted in groundwater effectively being poisoned for miles around due to the malevolent disregard to accountability.

Blame game

So who’s to blame? According to Matar, and indeed Lebanon’s environmental experts, OMSAR has a corruption problem itself as nearly all accuse it of embezzlement of the funds which it controls in the tendering process. Even government ministers I interviewed joined the chorus of accusations against it, with some suggesting that Hezbollah itself has officials within ministries like OMSAR whose sole job is to extract money for the Iranian-backed group. In Lebanon, it is widely accepted that ministries revenues are plundered by political groups with many appointed ministers acting as dodgy accountants looking to extract public funds for their masters.

Inquiries into OSMAR’s practice paint a picture of a well-organized group of officials who work in tandem with businessmen connected to politics, who provide the hardware for the EU funded projects, regardless of the expertise required. “It’s always the same companies who get all the contracts time after time and these companies are very close to OMSAR officials,” one source, who insisted on not being named, said. I put this to Matar who claims he was sent on a wild goose chase whenever he complained about the “corruption” behind the construction of the plant.

“Not only did we tell OMSAR but on several times about what was going on but we also we tried to get meetings with the [then] minister but she totally ignored us.” He is nervous about spelling it out in a recorded interview in a lawless country where such talk can get you killed. He smiles and tries to choose more politically appropriate words when I bluntly talk about accusations of OMSAR corruption. “OMSAR did not perform as well. It’s either politics or corruption [smiles]. They didn’t even come to check once to see if the facility is running or not. I will surely say that they are not performing properly.”

At the heart of these allegations is Mohamed Baraki, an official who makes the decisions on the lucrative contracts whose general aura of apathy and bellicose disregard towards the EU plants was quite astounding.

In a recorded interview, he not only admitted that the EU funded plant had entirely polluted the water near to Miniyeh’s plant but casually attributed this to the type of landfill being used as inappropriate – while adding later that a new landfill could have easily been built for little or no cost.

Putting aside the comic irony that he is the chief project manager of the plant and made all the decisions, his despondency towards Miniyeh and the public health implications was alarming and perhaps gives an indication of why the plants are failing and why “corruption” – which he admits is part of the problem – has made their success almost impossible. In a recorded interview, which at times descends into farce, he even admits that all of the plants are “not run very well” but denies any wrongdoing himself and places the blame on no real laws in Lebanon governing the sector, a lack of monitoring from the ministry of environment and no effective composting laws.

The OMSAR official at the centre of the storm who denies all wrong-doing, admits “corruption” is part of the problem and concedes that the compost is “not safe” and the water table polluted.

He also denies any malpractice on OMSAR’s side for the choice of companies who get the contracts, admits he’s “concerned” about the Miniyeh plant and even concedes that the compost is a threat to public health. “I’m not saying it’s safe. The compost quality is always affected by the material which comes to the facility. I cannot control what is being thrown into the garbage,” he adds, shrugging his shoulders.

But it’s not very convincing. The way Baraki describes the EU plants’ effectiveness which he has built, is like how a weary doctor might refer to a sticking plaster used to assist a patient with a decapitated limb. He talks of 50% of waste coming is “at least” being treated before it is dumped back into the landfill but fails to acknowledge that this compost produced is polluting the water table almost as much as the raw garbage being returned. The majority of the EU plants are essentially a total waste of time, money, effort and administration and in most cases present a prolific public health threat, not to mention a fabulous waste of EU taxpayers’ money. In most cases they are a triumph of stupendous futility, he seems to be admitting towards the end of the interview, with only 5 out of 12 which he claims makes any impact whatsoever on the environment. But even this estimation is folly and his arguments lack any credibility.

A lab test requested by this author and reluctantly produced by Baraki to show the quality of the compost of one of his best sites even shows an alarmingly high level of Escherichia coli in the compost.

Banging on an empty drum

Yet it’s his response to allegations presented to him that the contracts given to companies are suspicious at best, which is the heart of the matter. It’s these contracts and the impressive speed in which the plants were built, which has started to panic the EU which in 2017 jetted in a French official to investigate the resolute malpractice of the entire program. Shocked by what he saw, the Frenchman was so alarmed that he brought in an outside consultancy firm from Greece to do some snooping.

Since 2014 the record of €25 million euro going awry has resulted not only in the catastrophe of Miniyeh but also two other plants in the south of Lebanon closing down, the very moment the contractors got their hands on the EU cash to build them. Baraki, in a somewhat pompous state of denial, struggles to accept these two failures and the waste of cash. In the case of Miniyeh, in the north, he even fails to see how many might regard it suspicious that a company whose only expertise is making conveyor belts being awarded a 480,000 Euro contract to construct huge composting drums which have their own technology. And as to those drums not working ever as composting machines, he strongly denies charges from the whistleblower that the drums only turned for five days and produced nothing.

The drums themselves which an OMSAR official claims worked “for three months” dumped in a field next to the plant.

Yet my research found that in Miniyeh, the drums were installed in 2005 and after five days of turning, didn’t produce any compost. When pushed, Baraki dismisses them as a “bogus technology” which could not work in Lebanon, a curious claim, given that one firm who still makes them can point to at least one plant in Lebanon where they still work today, not to mention thirty years of USAID in Lebanon also using the same large drum technology. Also, he says that the drums were an “experiment” in Miniyeh, yet doesn’t explain the mysterious circumstances of how the firm who got the contract – a road building company who then subcontracted the job to a conveyer belt manufacturer – also ‘supplied’ two other sites and becomes quite angry about the insinuation of corruption.

Yet aside from his ludicrous claims that he is a fall guy for bigger players and their poor management, the truth is that the drums were never supposed to work, but merely turn, as they were only ever a magician’s prop just for a trick to get fast EU cash. Further investigation reveals more incriminating evidence against OSMAR buried in a confidential document. The study, conducted in 2005, and made by AUB academics, not only clearly stated the threat to water being contaminated if composting is not done correctly but also boldly contradicts Baraki telling the author that it is the municipalities themselves which chose the technology.

Very poor quality compost being produced by the plant in 2016 which clearly has glass, plastic and other foreign bodies in it, which would have been taken to the landfill.

In the study, it also clearly states that a company called Ceder Environmental should be given the contract to supply the drums. Its chief, Ziad Abi Chakir an environmentalist businessman not only presented the designs in the study but gave the researchers diagrams and dimensions of the drums.

Unwittingly, the 50-year-old businessman, who is part of a legal campaign to ban incinerators from coming to Lebanon, gave OMSAR all that it needed to hand the plans over to a company they preferred.

Does OMSAR, the anti-corruption agency, have its own corruption problem?

Abi Chakir and many others in his field believe it does. When approached, he is remarkably sanguine for a man who lost half a million dollars and had his technology ripped off. Unsurprisingly, he calls for much tighter controls to be put in place for EU-funded plants. “This should have been the case from day one. You don’t get plumbers to perform eye surgery no matter how connected to the hospital management they are,” he quips. “Public service projects in Lebanon are not really known for accountability…what was surprising was even EU financed projects were not held to proper accountability standards…and the results were disastrous.”

On Miniyeh, he is confident about the failure of OMSAR in the construction and running of the plant and its impact. “It is clear that due to the failure of the composting module at Miniyeh the bulk of the organic waste was being dumped untreated in the landfill of Adweh and since this landfill is not sanitized the accumulation threshold was reached quickly and the underground water was severely polluted,” he tells me.

The landfill near Miniyeh (Adweh) which was used by the EU project in its haste to get the grant. Even OMSAR admits that it was wholly unsuitable and a study warns of water pollution if used. So why wasn’t a second custom landfill built?

Health minister uses the C word

The breathtaking lack of accountability and independent audits, let alone OMSAR giving contracts to construct the plants to dubious firms, while ignoring experts’ warnings on public health is worrying, especially for Lebanon’s ex-health minister who is not remotely shocked at the investigations’ findings, despite the implications of a wide scale nation-wide epidemic landing at his door.

In an exclusive interview in January, Ghassan Hasbani, Lebanon’s deputy Prime Minister (and ex-health minister), not only acknowledges that OMSAR has a problem with corruption but goes further and calls for an overhaul of such internationally-funded programs, arguing that a much more diligent approach from the EU itself should be part of the funding process, and OMSAR should no longer continue in its role of allocating firms to the contracts.

“OSMAR shouldn’t be regarded by aid agencies as a funding authority or an agency to fund municipalities,” he says. “I’m all for preventing corruption to happen in the first place…the tendering process is an important stage when we talk about transparency…I struggle to find the logic behind [the EU funding ] them”.

“I’m also very worried as we are already seeing trends from the solid waste management crisis with certain diseases like cancer in areas that have water pollution…we have been taking water samples ourselves in various parts of the country and the water table is getting severely impacted by mismanagement of the solid waste sector in general”.

Ghassan Hasbani wants OMSAR to be banned from both choosing the companies and allocating EU cash to them.

EU trapped now by Lebanon’s “corruption market”

But the story about Miniyeh’s dysfunctional, if not comical recycling plant is not isolated. The lack of accountability with such projects has spurned in recent years a feeding frenzy of corrupt individuals, eager to profit themselves in a ‘business’ where a million or two dollars can be made with a phone call to the right people.

Part of our investigation even found a legitimate businessman who was approached by a former government minister with a suggestion to set up one of the bogus operations to fill his pockets with EU cash, ‘administered’ via the infamous OMSAR.

Furthermore, out of a dozen EU-funded recycling and composting plants, the author found two which had been created, and once the EU money had been handed over, quickly closed down in rather suspicious, if not hilarious, circumstances. And leagues of experts who all claim that the ‘compost’ which is being produced by those operating is not even genuine, but, again, substandard.

Wadih el Asmar, the former leader of Youstink! Protest movement and a leading human rights activist is just one of many, who has been arrested in the past for his human rights work. He also supports claims that most of the EU funded projects are bogus – with some resorting to either burning their garbage or dumping it at night, as a result of poorly managed operations which can’t cope in the first place.

“It’s not that the government does not have the technical means…it’s more than these EU projects are almost entirely ineffective,” he said.

“Most of them just don’t work because of corruption, and it doesn’t matter if there is an EU badge on it. In one, all of the equipment was stolen at the very beginning…None of them actually function as the EU doesn’t seem to care about the corruption which is going on.”

One EU plant never even functioned from day one, as staff stole equipment and the company running it took the money and ran. In another one, politically connected families actually fought over who would get the contract, such is the easy money to be made.

In December 2018, El Asmar added that “most of the time such politicians make it impossible to really hold accountable the criminals so we don’t rely a lot on politicians stories.” “The main problem with the EU program is that it’s an investment program, so the EU build and then hide behind the fact that they are not responsible for the operation and they can’t make any intervention once the plant is handed out to OMSAR. It’s all the system that need to be reorganized in a way to guarantee more transparency and efficiency.”

On Miniyeh, El Asmar is clear: “Definitely, a genuine and transparent assessment could have prevented such criminal mistakes. This is why we insist on having a systematic assessment prior to any project,” he adds.

Indeed, it beggars belief that even a simple committee of environmental experts to vet the companies’ applications for the lucrative EU contracts is not set up, in a country teaming with academics. Why does the EU have such a cavorting repulsion towards uncovering corruption and getting the right companies to carry out its work?

Some have argued that it is the hold Lebanon has over the West in general with its over 1 million Syrian refugees. Others believe it may be about the present EU delegation chief herself who could feel uncomfortable about rocking the boat which might draw attention to her own extravagances, like the 10 million dollar villa she rents as her own residence, a huge djinn palace which took a whole year to fit out to her specifications, paid for by EU taxpayers.

Others though, like one leading anti-corruption expert, believes that the EU is simply trapped now in a game it created with the Lebanese elite who see the 100s of millions of euros that the EU gives Lebanon as a legitimate revenue stream to divert. Add to that the EU’s mercurial relationship with Hezbollah’s sponsor, Iran, and the power of the Shiite group in Lebanon and it’s easier to understand how things got out of hand. “Apparently, the political mafia agreed to devise area of corruption so they minimize the clash risk between each other. Each political faction has its group of companies that are monopolizing its part of the corruption market,” explains Rabih El Chaer, a lawyer who previously headed up a transparency organisation in Lebanon.

“International donors understood this equilibrium,” he says. “They know that this is the price to pay in order to them to be able to work in Lebanon”.

This trap which EU agencies find themselves ensnared in is starting to worry powerful officials in Brussels though. A respected MEP on the international circuit is “shocked” and is now calling for the entire Lebanon waste management program to be investigated by the EU’s own anti-fraud agency based in Brussels.

“I’m extremely concerned about what this investigation has exposed,” says Ana Gomes MEP. “It’s more than the EU’s credibility that it puts in question: it’s the efficiency and integrity of EU internal and external controls which may have been infiltrated by incompetent or criminal individuals enabling criminal networks in Lebanon, thus totally perverting the goals of EU aid and even putting at risk people’s lives,” she explains.

“Besides grossly misusing European taxpayers’ money, this calls for an urgent and deep investigation from the EU…so that those responsible, in the EU and Lebanon, will be brought to justice and that Overseas Development Aid (ODA) to Lebanon will be immediately reviewed, corrected and put under stringent control,” she added.

Ana Gomes is pushing for an investigation in Brussels to not only stop the corruption but to also prosecute those in Lebanon who are part of the sham companies. (Connect Euranet)

But getting the system changed might be difficult in a country ran by gangs who are hell-bent on destroying its infrastructure for the express purposes of looting more foreign ‘rescue’ aid.

El Chaer even warns that if the EU attempted to replace or even tweak the current corrupt system, that it “would encounter serious problems in Lebanon.” Indeed, there cannot be a better example of aid projects grinding to a halt when the corrupt politicians have not been allowed to take a huge cut, than Lebanon’s six wastewater plants – all built around 2000 and inoperative due to donors’ strict anti-corruption conditions.

The result is that 100% of Lebanon’s sewage goes straight into the Mediterranean while these six giants lay idol, a stoic metaphor for everything which is corrupt in Lebanon’s waste management cesspit of international aid.

In Lebanon, the rule is that if Corruption Inc doesn’t take a fat slice, then nothing moves.

In the case of OMSAR, the lawyer is supporting the notion that the corruption inside the organization with contracts may well not be individuals filling their pockets but political agents (in this case Hezbollah which had a number of ministers in its pocket in recent years) who are procuring huge amounts of cash.

In the frenzied scramble for the elite to get their hands on the EU cash, the waste is breathtaking, with little effort to cover up the scams, such is the confidence of those cashing in on them.

Antoine Moussa, an environmental pundit is deeply cynical about the EU plants. “The EU is spending €60 million on these plants, but it’s a waste of time and money as all that is going on in these operations is corruption,” he said citing an example of two EU plants that are now closed. “One EU plant, Kfour, had political parties squabbling over who would run it, and there was a scandal about hospital waste being found there. Another, Ansar, is totally deserted now with all the equipment stolen.”

Yet for those who are neither dumping nor burning their garbage, but actually producing compost, all activists agree there are real health and environmental worries, following the water tests carried out on the Miniyeh plant. How likely is it that all of the dirty dozen EU recycling and composting plants are producing hazardous waste which is poisoning the water table and threatening people’s health, in a country only beaten by Mozambique, Nigeria, and the Central African Republic in terms of corruption ranking by Transparency International?

Investigating the investigators

Numerous emails exchanged with the EU delegation conducted over almost two years have concluded that it considers itself not responsible for how the money is administered once it leaves the EU coffers.

The predecessor to the current expert who left in 2017 admitted though that the plants had some problems while stressing that the EU only pays for the construction. “It is true that Operation and Maintenance (O&M) is a concern and that the private operators in charge of O&M are not always fulfilling their duties. O&M is financed by the Government, not by us,” he explained.

But how can such malignant irresponsibility be acceptable? One argument might be that the EU now is in ‘cover-up’ mode and wants to draw a veil over the spectacular failure that its waste management projects have become in Lebanon.

After 15 years, not one plant is able to even produce compost of a grade which could be sold to farmers. The EU is clearly trying to gloss over its awesome failure of the 12 sites and attribute blame.

And how can the EU expect to be taken seriously though when it pays off a consultancy firm which is part of its cozy political circle in Brussels? Was LDK, like many consultancies which have elegant offices close to the European Commission, brought in to expose OMSAR’s dirty deals, or cover them up? Surely OLAF, the EU’s own investigator against fraud should have been given the task, not a consultancy firm, which can be manipulated? And what sort of an example to OMSAR is the French official, who, when he arrived in 2017 refused to sign off 17 million dollars of aid to OMSAR – not because of it being diverted to bogus companies – but because it would have clashed with his own holiday plans for that summer?

The EU has not only created an environmental calamity with its shady, tacit agreement for these funds to be diverted to political groups like Hezbollah but is also exposing itself to legal action. Wadih el Asmar refers to the Miniyeh case as “criminal” and asks for action to be taken against OMSAR and the companies. That’s unlikely to happen but on a local level, the EU (via OLAF) could push the Lebanese government to prosecute officials from the municipalities, as the MEP has suggested. This idea is more feasible, according to a professor in environmental law who reluctantly agreed to be interviewed, afraid of the consequences.

“I would like to see an official subject to a judicial investigation, and possibly condemned but this is a utopia in the current state of the severely corrupted system,” says Raphaël Joseph Sfeir.

Ziad Abi Chakir, however, believes that the EU should simply scrap or radically overhaul the present tendering process. “When no one is accountable in any project then the trend continues until it reaches unacceptable levels before one of two things happen: either financing completely stops or some new accountability measures are strictly enforced.”

The EU’s entrapment or addiction to pouring hundreds of millions of EU taxpayers’ money into sham projects in Lebanon stinks on so many levels. Clearly, the cash-for-hegemony is there, but perhaps more so, the EU is in too deep and any attempt to stop the madness, would result in such a media scandal, that it is not worth it for officials like the EU delegation chief to clean up the act. But worse though is the sensational disregard for accountability, presided by EU officials who spend money like gangsters set free from prison and live in sprawling townhouses with rock star lifestyles, which has encouraged the record growth of corruption as in industry itself in Lebanon and which now is surely set to make the headlines again when the water is officially acknowledged as the main source of rising levels of chronic diseases. And the EU funded plants responsible.

The ‘market place’ of corruption now has grown too big and too powerful and, in hand with politicians, is now wetting its lips as it eyes $300 million dollar incinerators which it wants the EU to buy, as part of a perverse cycle of funneling money into a black hole, which itself, grows exponentially, in a country breaking records for its environmental degradation; an ocean completely polluted because of sewage pumped into it, following failed EU wastewater plants, competing with a dozen recycling and compost schemes which are poisoning groundwater (used by farmers for their crops) while municipalities burn waste at night releasing toxins into the air. And now incinerators, which will bring in millions for the elite’s coffers (and their militias) is now the new focus, despite the byproduct (ash) which has to be put into landfills know to be toxic. If the EU failed, as our investigation revealed to even conduct the simplest water tests in the region of Miniyeh, before it signed off the financing, then can we expect it to care about the horrific implications of incinerators? Will the argument be from the Lebanese government that “the groundwater was already polluted 100 times beyond what is anywhere near to safe by compost which was toxic, so what difference will toxic ash from the incinerators make?”

On May 9th, the EU will celebrate its 40 years presence in Lebanon, as banal and ironic as Christina Lassen recently giving a speech about how much great work the EU is doing there in the environment sector – or even the ambassadors from EU countries – like the UK – who support her and claim to be great champions of journalism, but yet couldn’t quite support the crowdfunding of this investigation. The international community is not merely a hypocrite in its support for the assiduous destruction of Lebanon’s environment and its rise in cancer cases, but is a major player in enabling a mafia to take hold and actually make the country a disaster zone so as to embezzle more aid money, which is happening right now with the $11 billion dollars of ‘aid’ heading towards Beirut from ‘donors’ – which in reality, future generations will pay for in higher taxes, fewer services, fewer jobs, higher crime levels and much, much worse health.

It’s high time the Lebanese woke up to this reality and started by holding them to account before their own leaders, starting with the EU’s criminal waste management program in Lebanon which just stinks.

Editor’s note: In January, a new Lebanese government took office with a new OMSAR minister. The ex-environment minister did not respond to interview requests. The EU delegation chief referred all questions via email to her environment officer. Lebanon’s ex anti-corruption minister was considering investigating the allocation of contracts mentioned in the piece. The new environment minister in April 2019 called for the landfill dump in Miniyeh (Adweh) to be closed.

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