Needa Al Ard: A Homegrown Waste Management Initiative
In light of the ongoing garbage crisis in Lebanon, LCPS conducted an interview with Ms. Dareen Farhat, a founding member of Needa Al Ard, an organization that since 1998 has encouraged better waste management strategies in the southern Lebanese town of Arabsalim. Needa Al Ard brings together local activists who are the driving force behind the town’s sustainable waste management plan. This interview aims to shed light on successful initiatives undertaken by local CSOs concerning day-to-day problems faced by Lebanese residents, with the hope that it can help policymakers recognize the efficacy of local initiatives to address such issues.
When and why did your organization begin a waste management program?
Needa Al Ard was officially established in 1998 through the efforts of Zeinab Mokalled and a small group of women from the southern Lebanese town of Arabsalim. Trash became a significant problem under the Israeli occupation, as at that time there was no municipal council to handle waste management duties. In response, a group of citizens organized an effort to clean up the town. Mrs. Mokalled began campaigning by visiting her neighbors’ homes and discussing the importance of preserving the environment through sorting household waste and recycling. Later, Needa Al Ard refined this process by decentralizing their workforce and splitting the town into smaller sectors, making it easier to campaign, as well as collect sorted waste and transport it to relevant recycling facilities in southern Lebanon.
How does the household waste sorting process work?
Needa Al Ard advocates sorting at source, which reduces the amount of waste produced by individual households. Today, close to 70 percent of Arabsalim’s population sorts and recycles, meaning they separate their trash between plastics, metals, glass, and organic materials. Our process entails collecting solid sorted recyclable waste—excluding organic waste—from sorting bins distributed to each household by our organization, and transporting them to our sorting station, where waste is further sorted and processed. Then the town’s sorted waste is sent to nearby recycling facilities, which happens approximately twice a month.
What kinds of partnerships does Needa Al Ard have? And how is your organization funded?
Initially, the organization was self-funded by its founder, Zeinab Mokalled. It later received—upon its request for funding—different forms of aid from international bodies. During the course of the first few years, Needa Al Ard received some $20,000 in financial aid from UNDP. The Italian Embassy also lent a hand by building a sorting station for the town, while the German Embassy provided an electricity generator for the station. Not all aid reached the organization however, as a sum of grant money slated for buying a machine that shreds plastic, went missing following its transfer to Lebanon.
Despite this, one of the town’s residents took the initiative and built the organization a shredding machine on a much lower budget. Since then, Needa Al Ard has operated on a voluntary basis, collecting modest revenue from the sales of sorted waste to recycling facilities.
The roles of the government and the municipality of Arabsalim were visibly insignificant in the early development of the NGO. Several issues led to this state of aloofness. On the one hand, there were Israeli security threats, and on the other, mismanagement, underfunding of municipalities, sectarian and political partisanships, and an absence of leading individuals interested in the public good. However, despite that general lack of initiative, the municipality did provide land for the organization’s first sorting facility and later on distributed disposal bins for sorted waste across Arabsalim. Currently, and in light of the ongoing garbage crisis in Lebanon, there is a wave of interest emanating from the Arabsalim municipality and the surrounding areas regarding the work that Needa Al Ard has been doing.
Talks are ongoing on ways to improve, expand, and further empower the organization’s sorting at source program. Collaboration with local governments could lead to practical and political victories for the municipalities, assist in building bridges with constituents, and possibly even inspire other municipalities across the country.
What are the biggest challenges your organization has faced?
One of our biggest challenges has been the constant security threat from Israel. Our organization has been forced to build itself up again several times due to the migration of residents during security crises. So we have to continuously campaign and remind people of the importance of what they are doing because when families are worried about their survival, sorting out waste becomes the least of their concerns.
The second challenge is the absence of youth in our organization, which is why we are encouraging the younger generation to take part and become more involved in our work.
The third main challenge concerns the large population increase in Arabsalim, partly as a result of an influx of Syrian refugees into the village. This issue has made it harder for us to campaign as effectively as we used to, not to mention that there are fewer collectors than what is needed to service the larger numbers of residents.
What conditions are necessary for the success of an initiative similar to yours?
Our organization’s goal is simple and clear: To find and implement a solution for the problem of waste mismanagement affecting every part of Lebanon. Our municipalities have various obstacles to overcome whether its mismanagement, insufficient funding, a lack of necessary environmental awareness, political and religious partisanships, or general insecurity. The truth, however, is that despite the differences dividing Lebanese citizens, our environment is our common ground, and there ought to be campaigns convincing people of that.
Ideally, a top-bottom approach in a functioning system helps facilitate projects such as ours. Herein lies the role of the government, which can replicate what the organization managed to accomplish and project it on Lebanon’s larger population. Authorities should initiate tougher rules and enforce environmental protection laws. They should also educate the public on the importance of protecting the environment while teaching citizens about safe ways to dispose of waste. Municipalities must, with the help of Lebanon’s political parties, propagate awareness campaigns, and call for funding from the government. Funds could be dedicated to distributing sorting bins across neighborhoods, and employing environmental [protection] officials to monitor and assist people in the process. On top of all of these recommendations lays our key to success. Awareness raising efforts have been our main focus and are central to the success of such a program.