Garbage crisis drives Beirut residents over the edge

Friday 31/07/2015
More than one can take

BEIRUT - The Lebanese have kept their humour and strong joie de vivre despite many problems: economic slow­down, a deadlocked gov­ernment, poor public services and the spillover of the four year-old Syrian conflict in the form of a huge refugee influx and growing insecu­rity.

However, the garbage crisis grip­ping Beirut and Mount Lebanon’s district for the second week was the “straw” that broke the camel’s back.

“This is more than one can take,” said a pedestrian wearing a mask in Hamra street, a main shopping hub in the city. The stench emanating from piling garbage blocking pave­ments in Beirut’s streets has driven the residents over the edge.

Although they have mastered the art of survival by adapting to decades of poor public services, including power outages, water shortages and occasional commu­nication breakdown, residents of the Lebanese capital were suffocating under fetid trash putrefying in the scorching summer heat.

Anger fuelled by the crisis sent thousands of protesters into the streets, where they set garbage piles alight and overturned dumpsters, block­ing main arteries and adding the acrid smell of smoke to the air already filled with the odour of putrid waste.

Motorists were forced to test their driv­ing skills by zigzagging between trash piles en­croaching onto the streets.

Under a national campaign brand­ed “You stink like trash”, hundreds of angry residents and activ­ists rallied outside the government headquarters in downtown Beirut, calling for sustainable long-term so­lutions to the country’s waste man­agement problem.

Many residents have fled Bei­rut’s stench to villages and towns in the mountains or to the south and north. Those who remained in the city prefer to stay indoors in an air-conditioned envi­ronment.

“I closed all the windows and put on the air condition­ing. I am not going out unless I have to, and even if I do, I have my mask with me,” said 33-year-old Lyn Soubra, who has the option of working from home.

The crisis started on July 17 when activists forced the closure of the country’s main land­fill in Naameh, south of Beirut, preventing trucks operated by Suk­leen, the private company in charge of garbage collection in Lebanon, from dumping waste.

With the government failing to select an alternative dump site and Sukleen’s contract expiring at the same time, garbage collection was suspended in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, which collectively pro­duce 3,000 to 4,000 tons of waste daily.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Tamam Salam, which has been grounded by deep political divi­sions, is unable to agree on a myr­iad of issues, garbage being one of them.