BEIRUT: Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk and Social Affairs Minister Rashid Derbas signed Monday a memorandum of understanding that will see their ministries collaborate on tackling the environmentalimpact of the refugee crisis.

The presence of around 1.1 million Syrian refugees in Lebanon has brought unprecedented environmental problems to the country and overwhelmed infrastructure.

The refugee population, roughly equivalent to one fourth of the population, has greatly challenged the ability of state institutions to handle solid waste, heightening environmental concerns such as water pollution. The sheer numbers of refugees have also increased the rate of random construction in the country, affecting the makeup of lands and ecosystems.

Before signing the agreement, Machnouk explained that both ministries had been collaborating on the Syrian refugee file for years already.

“We complete each other, though the Social Affairs Ministry is handling the largest burden of all right now relative to all other ministries in Lebanon, in the environmental context we are also working to meet specific needs,” Machnouk said.

The Environment Ministry is working to advance a road map for sustainable development in the country and a strategy to implement it, he added, stressing that collaboration with all relevant ministries is a must to see the plan through.

“We presented last September an expanded report with the UNDP to curb the effects of displacement on the environment in Lebanon,” Machnouk said. “We found out that managing this issue would cost hundreds of millions of dollars.”

“We are saying this because we can sense the dangers ahead for Lebanon and its social fabric,” he said. “All citizens across Lebanon should fight the environmental effects of the refugee presence here, but also help their Syrian brothers.”

Derbas explained that the influx of refugees would have dangerous environmental consequences but convincing stakeholders of this fact was difficult.

“Today we face hard circumstances, especially when we speak about the Syrian displacement,” Derbas said. “There’s the issue of the burden of the population, but it doesn’t stop there, there is also security, difficult living conditions and unlawful competition in the job market.”

Lebanon’s infrastructure is suffering and will completely fall apart in 15 years if current trends persist, Derbas said, adding that adequate attention was not being paid to forest conservation or keeping a clean coastline.

He criticized a lack of government initiatives for environmental issues stemming from the refugee influx.

“We have so many excuses to stall [on political decisions],” he said. “Officials … should overcome them and work within the limits of their capabilities, and if possible, beyond them.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 05, 2015, on page 4.