This policy brief analyses the role of state authorities and municipalities in service provision in Libya; asks how it has developed since 2011; and how it changed during the 2019-2020 waste management crisis.
The waste crisis of 2019 also led to the emergence of tensions among the municipalities.
The absence of the governorate as an administrative unit to coordinate between municipalities, combined with poor waste collection service funding, prompted each municipality to form its own independent relationships with other stakeholders.
In an act of self-governance, some municipalities cooperated with armed groups to secure exclusive access to the landfills, which hindered, in turn, other municipalities from providing their own waste management services.
At the Tajoura and Abu Slim landfills, for instance, which were guarded by armed groups, transport trucks from outside their areas were turned away.
During the crisis, the municipalities with the highest population density faced challenges in disposing of their waste, especially in the absence of interim landfills within their territories.
For example, Souq al-Jum’a municipality issued a statement in October 2019, in which it held both the General Services Company-Tripoli and Tajoura municipality responsible for “their lack of cooperation in receiving the waste of the Souq al-Jum’a municipality to the interim landfill in Tajoura.”
In response, the Environmental Sanitation Office in Tajoura stated that the landfill was closed and out of service, and that it could only accommodate the waste from Tajoura municipality.
Consequently, the Souq al-Jum’a municipality created a temporary landfill in Maitiqa, despite it failing to meet the regulations for the construction of an interim landfill.
Although the waste crisis ended in June 2020, waste management services have continued to operate without a clear system.
Both central and local institutions in Tripoli suffer from a lack of regulatory and legal frameworks for waste management, as well as poor communication and coordination between local solid waste management institutions.
This suggests that the waste management crisis in Tripoli was not merely caused by the challenges arising from the armed conflict. This is borne out by the emergence of another waste management challenge immediately after the crisis ended.
In September 2020, a new interim landfill was established in the al-Naqliyah Camp, in the Airport Road area.48 Though the residents of the area objected to its construction, and though it did not meet landfill regulations, it opened nonetheless.
The armed conflict in southern Tripoli in 2019 triggered the waste crisis and highlighted the weakness of the waste management sector; a weakness exacerbated by the absence of public policies, planning, and integrated coordination between the authorities.
The waste crisis was only deemed a priority when waste accumulated in the streets; and, once it was removed and disposed of, the crisis was considered to have been resolved.
Current waste management policy in the capital might be described as a “clean-up approach,” and the terms “cleanliness” or “services” – officially used to describe waste management – illustrate the outdated methods of waste management employed.
The General Services Company-Tripoli, for example, believes that it is not responsible for reducing waste, or establishing facilities to treat and recycle rubbish. Instead, it considers its role to be limited to collecting, transporting, and disposing of waste in landfills, whether permanent or interim.
However, the waste management sector requires a coherent public policy that allows:
(a) firstly, for the implementation of sustainable and long-term plans on the basis of local economic, social, and political conditions, as well as sound environmental management; and
(b) secondly, an integrated public policy that coordinates between the central and local levels, while involving all relevant parties and stakeholders in providing waste management services.
The waste management crisis has demonstrated the need to face up to the overlapping prerogatives of the General Services Company-Tripoli, which is affiliated with the Ministry of Local Government, and the municipalities, with respect to waste management.
The crisis has also shed light on the need to develop and to implement legislation to regulate waste management, in the shift to decentralisation from central to local government.
For example, both Laws No. 59 of 2012 and No. 13 of 1984, regarding the establishment of municipalities and public cleaning services grant, respectively, municipalities and public services companies the prerogatives to collect and transport waste. However, neither law mentions any mechanisms or regulatory measures for coordinating waste management activities.
Therefore, the shift to local government requires a decision by the cabinet to dissolve the bodies whose prerogatives overlap with those of local government, and to distribute waste management prerogatives among the municipalities and public service companies.
One solution that could promote the role of municipalities in waste management services would be to grant them financial independence.
The municipalities currently receive their funding from the Ministry of Local Government, whereas Law No. 59 grants them the right to access diversified sources of funding.
Doing so could secure a sustainable stream of revenues for the municipalities which would be independent of the government budget, and which would have simpler legal and administrative procedures.
Moreover, there is a lack of policies involving the private sector in the waste management process. As a result, the significant role that the private sector plays in investment and waste recycling remains limited. According to some experts, the private sector is still not ready to propose solutions in waste management.
Moreover, the necessary structures for facilitating its role have not yet been established. Experts also argue that investing in waste management is unprofitable from the perspective of business owners seeking a quick turnover, and that instability is not conducive to costly projects, due to their potential economic risks.
For this reason, the role of the private sector is typically limited to companies or individuals who own vehicles which can be used for the collection and transportation of waste.
It is worth noting here that private companies receive funding for waste transportation and collection from the General Services Company-Tripoli, according to contracts which name them as “national contributing companies.”
This dependence on state funding by the private sector weakens it and impedes its operations. Experts in the Environmental Sanitation Office have also noted that private waste collection companies tend not to receive their financial allocations from the government for long periods of time; sometimes waiting for more than a year.
Civil society failed to play any effective role in monitoring or developing solutions with regards to waste management services. Instead, its role was limited to awareness-raising.
For instance, some organizations satisfy themselves to raising awareness and explaining the best practices of waste disposal methods to various groups in society. They consider awareness-raising to be an important way to reduce waste, as it targets the source of the problem: homes.
The role of civil society organizations in holding waste management service providers accountable remains limited.
Accordingly, it is imperative to support civil society organizations and to involve them as stakeholders in any policies or plans aimed at developing waste management, and to provide them with the personnel and data needed to enable them to play a more effective role.
It is important finally to note that international organizations work to support the Libyan governments in the transitional phase of the current challenges.
Among their priorities is support for the municipalities during the shift to decentralization and the provision of services. In this sense, logistical support is provided in the form of equipment and vehicles to facilitate the municipalities’ provision of public services.
However, it is not clear whether this support aids sustainability in waste management. After all, the municipalities are still not legally, financially, or administratively entitled to conduct their waste management duties.
In addition, the authorities responsible for waste management lack the qualifications and the ability to develop strategic plans for waste management, something which may render such logistical support ineffective.
Experts stress that waste management does not need urgent or short-term solutions. Rather, it needs long-term strategic support.
Rima Ibrahim works at the Orient-Institut Beirut as a Research Assistant since July 2019.