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Green activists blast ban on diesel as political measures target service for poor

16 August 2002

Maha Al-Azar –  Daily Star

Environmentalists have decried Parliament’s decision  to extend the diesel ban to 24-seat buses as a “political” move that  lacks vision.  “The whole issue of the ban is unfair,” said Ali Darwish, who heads   Green Line, a local environmental group. “Either they should ban diesel    for all vehicles or they should allow everyone to use it.”

Law 341 for curbing air pollution from the transport sector had originally     called for banning diesel-powered mini-buses accommodating up to 16 passengers     by July 15. But mini-bus drivers and owners have protested the move that would     rob some 4,000 families of their main source of income, prompting the government     to reconsider its strategy.

Darwish argued that by banning diesel-powered mini-buses seating up to 24 and       ignoring larger buses, MPs were actually causing an economic crisis while doing       little to fight environmental pollution.  “Mini-buses and 24-seat buses were providing a much-needed cheap service for       poor and remote areas not serviced by bigger buses,” he said. “If bigger buses       are allowed to operate on the available diesel, they would still be causing       pollution.”  “The way this issue is being handled leads us to think that there’s a plan   to give advantage to private companies that run buses with more than 24 seats,”   he added.  While mini-buses are for the most part owned by individuals, there are several       privately owned companies that operate larger buses.  “These are all random political decisions, not based on any vision,” Darwish complained.

During Parliament’s Wednesday session, five MPs proposed lifting the ban and         importing a cleaner, more environment-friendly diesel.  The MPs argued that the ban had caused an economic and social problem and did    not solve pollution as the larger buses were not included.  But Parliament did not adopt this proposal, deciding instead to keep the ban    and expand it to include buses that can accommodate up to 24 riders.

But Darwish and other environmentalists want to see the government address           the pollution problem in a more comprehensive manner.  “This is not about diesel versus gasoline,” said Hala Ashour, an environmentalist     active on the air pollution issue.  “A complete land transport strategy should be laid out,” she said. “This would  be based on    a policy that would budget for promoting public transport instead of the current           attitude that encourages consumption and car use.”  “That includes imposing taxes on increased car use and incentives for using           public transport,” Ashour said.

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