Ghadir River Swallows Beirut Shantytown

We need to keep the water from reaching our homes every time it rises. (Photo: Haytham Al-Moussawi)

By: Rajana Hamyeh

Published Thursday, January 10, 2013

In the southern suburbs of Beirut sits Hay al-Sellom, an agglomeration of concrete and tin shacks adjacent to the Ghadir River.

On Monday, 7 January 2013, the area closest to the river was declared a disaster zone when, after massive storms, the river flooded and burst into residents’ homes. The impoverished people who call this area home – many refugees from the South who came here three decades ago – are now without shelter.

The river overflows every year, but only now did the state decide to declare the area a disaster zone.

The homes are built on public property, just like Solidere and Saifi. The only difference is Hay al-Sellom’s residents are destitute. As such, the state has not paid a visit to the neighborhood. Three days have passed “without any politician visiting us,” said Saeeda Durra, a woman whose son’s home was washed away by the mud.

The only exception are the bulldozers of the Ministry of Public Works clearing the roads and dredging the river bed. And, of course, the cameras looking for a “nice” picture.

Only the “guys” from Hezbollah and Amal, the two Shia parties active in the area, were “helping us pick up what remained of our stuff and helped us with finding a place to sleep and some bread,” said Mohammad Sawwan, whose home was flooded.

From the Sukleen factory, one can identify the features of the stricken neighborhood. Bulldozers and trucks are blocking one of the lanes in the road leading to the quarter. For the first time, police from the Choueifat Municipality – to which Hay al-Sellom belongs administratively – stand at the “gate.” They are organizing traffic on the road linking the upper and lower sides of the suburb.

At the Ghadir River crossing, it is a catastrophe. The insides of disemboweled homes cover the streets, the river, and the many deserted rooms. Men stand on both sides of the street watching the river. “We need to keep the water from reaching our homes every time it rises,” said one.

Inside the abject poverty of the homes, any visitor will see all they need to know. Even the contours of human lives carry an uncanny resemblance to the furniture. Another thing is shared between all those houses: the tin roofs covering all concrete roofs.

There aren’t enough clotheslines to dry the clothes. Everything here is flooded. She led Al-Akhbar through the homes, moving from one room to another, indicating that “all is gone.” She hasn’t seen a flood like this in 20 years.

Three days left the neighborhood without any soul. They were all displaced. Those without shelter “slept in their cars or vans or at neighbors whose homes were not affected by much water.”

On 9 January 2013, Mayada Hamze finally managed to reach the grocery store to buy bread. “We survived on one bag of bread we bought from a seller whose bus was stuck at crossing,” she said. The rest of the food was whatever was in the pantry, mostly potatoes, lentils, and rice.

Many residents said that this disaster could’ve been prevented if it weren’t for a shack built by a certain person on the edge of the crossing two years ago, at the height of the construction boom. (His name was given, but will remain anonymous.) The neighbors asked him not to build it, since when the river floods, “it would pass where the shack is and go down towards Sukleen,” said Ali Sawwan, a resident.

But the man built it anyway. Today he is accused by the families of being responsible for the disaster. “We fought with him yesterday and it reached the point of exchange of gunfire,” said Durra.

Residents believe someone could have died during the flood because of one shack, “which the landlord could do without the $100 he gets out of it,” someone explained.

It seems that the landlord does not want to do without this money nor would the politicians have cared about resulting death. The flood will ebb and they will all forget that the Ghadir River had burst into people’s homes.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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