Academic and Activist: Dr. Fifi Nassif Kallab of Byblos Ecologia

Photo: Sarah Abdella-El Kallassy

Dr. Fifi Nassif Kallab has spent the majority of her life dedicated to protecting the environment and increasing awareness of environmental issues in local communities. In her serene North Amchit home, surrounded by immaculate gardens, Dr. Kallab and I spoke at length about her life and work, both abroad and in Lebanon.

A lecturer at the Lebanese University, Lebanese American University, and Balamand University, Dr. Kallab is no stranger to the world of academia. Far from sitting in the proverbial ivory tower, she emphasizes the responsibility of the academic to support and inform the activist. Dr. Kallab believes that when academics support and work alongside activists, even engaging in activism themselves, the community will benefit.

After years of living in France and a full career that includes consulting at numerous United Nations agencies, such as the UN Development Program and the UN Environmental Program, Dr. Kallab returned to Lebanon, with her sights set helping her country. She has been so influential that she was honored in 2009 by the National Commission for Lebanese Women for her work in addressing environmental issues.

Dr. Kallab’s organization, Byblos Ecologia for Development and Environment, has launched numerous programs designed to improve local awareness of environmental issues in the community. She is also actively involved in training NGOs and their staff to more effectively propose and execute projects, increasing their professionalism and capacity.

Currently, Byblos Ecologia has a pilot program to educate households on how to separate their waste (organic, general, hazardous). The program provides the necessary resources to do so, such as free bins for each home, and free pickup of waste. Predicated on the idea that making it easier to be environmentally friendly will increase participation, the program has met with success so far. Youth at the university level act as outreach for the program and are earning community service hours for their participation.

Along with the Zero Waste Coalition, composed of over 80 NGOs, Dr. Kallab has been an outspoken opponent of incineration, lobbying members of the Lebanese Parliament to oppose the use of such methods for waste management, citing the danger of the practice. She recalled a memorable occasion in which she had worked tirelessly to convince Lebanese politicians to vote against the use of incinerators. Dr. Kallab stated that while many promised her they would oppose the incinerators, at the time of the vote, each one voted in favor of the dangerous waste management method.

Projects funded by the international community for environmental protection and waste management, while well intentioned, often do not take into account the infrastructure or capability of Lebanon to successfully deliver such projects. They are also not immune to the Lebanese bureacracy or politics. Dr. Kallab cites rampant corruption and skimming of funds as constant sources of ire preventing such projects from being successful.

While Dr. Kallab decries corruption, as do most Lebanese, she refuses to be crippled by complacency. Her no nonsense, community-based approach to tackling Lebanon’s environmental woes make her a formidable force of nature.

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