Lebanon: Trash Piles Up as Eco-Activists Fight Toxic Landfill

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A woman walks past a large pile of garbage bags in Beirut's southern suburbs on January 19, 2014. (Photo: Marwan Bou Haidar)

By: Chloé Benoist

Published Sunday, January 19, 2014

Protesters gathered to demand the closure of a poorly-managed waste treatment facility for the third day in a row on Sunday, as trash continued to pile up in the streets of the Lebanese capital.

Residents of the towns of Naameh and Ain Drafill blocked the road leading to the landfill used to dispose trash from Beirut and Mount Lebanon, as part of a protracted dispute with waste removal company Averda.

Sprawling piles of garbage could be seen along the sidewalks and roads of the Lebanese capital. In some areas, pungent smells were overbearing as flowing heaps of uncollected waste blocked sidewalks or were tipped over onto the streets.

An estimated 10,000 tons of trash were left uncollected in the region as of Sunday.

“We are happy that trash is left outside in the area,” Lebanon Eco Movement President Paul Abi Rached told Al-Akhbar. “That way, people will start asking themselves where it all goes.”

Averda, a private entity, signed an agreement with the Lebanese state to handle its garbage disposal. The firm owns companies Sukleen - responsible for waste collection - and Sukomi - which is in charge of managing waste treatment and disposal.

The company had signed a contract with Naameh and Ain Drafill to host a landfill, which would be actively used for ten years and hold a maximum of two million tons of waste.

However, the landfill has now been in activity for more than 15 years and holds an estimated 15 million tons of trash.

Moreover, Sukomi has fallen severely short of its role in treating waste, an Al-Akhbar report revealed on Saturday. While an estimated 75 percent of the content of the landfill is organic matter, the company only composts 10 percent of it, and recycles less than seven percent of the trash in Naameh.

The landfill has had destructive effects on the environment, polluting neighboring water sources, residents claim.

Residents have complained of high levels of allergies and cancers, Abi Rached said.

He added that they were trying to get the World Health Organization (WHO) to inspect Naameh and Ain Drafill.

Residents neighboring the landfill, who had been promised compensation as part of the contract, have yet to be given any financial indemnity, and this despite an official decision in 2008 to give residents $6 for each ton of garbage sent to the landfill. Since the creation of the landfill, Averda now owes around $30 million to Naameh and Ain Drafill.

The cost charged by Averda to maintain the landfill - $142 per ton of garbage - is allegedly one of the highest in the world.

According to Abi Rached, campaigners have calculated that Lebanon should have spent around $110 million on the landfill. Instead, the landfill has so far cost $900 million.

“We have been robbed of $800 million,” he said.

Because of the lack of treatment, the landfill is thought to produce 20,000 cubic meters of methane per hour. Methane is a harmful gas contributing largely to global warming, but can also be used to produce energy.

The combination of organic and dangerous trash in the landfill has also created toxic liquid known as leachate, which is much more polluting than sewage water.

Abi Rached said the environmental advocates in the campaign demanded four urgent responses to the crisis: treatment of the Naameh landfill; the creation of composting and trash-sorting centers; support of the recycling industry; and more eco-responsibility from individual citizens.

“The people here can’t tolerate another day of this,” Abi Rached said. “It’s up to those in charge to come up with a solution.”

Comments

Dear Al Akhbar, first of all a compliment: I really like your articles and I truly regret I cannot read the Arabic version. Concerning the article's subject I do think that it could be an incredible "Trojan Horse" for a finally successful social and national campaign in Lebanon, those that truly unite and create a common goal. If Mr. Abi Rached's figures are verifiable (and I think who better than your journalists could do it), Al Akhbar could systematically spur the Authorities or whomever is directly responsible to give explanations. Unlike other Lebanese plagues (electricity, ... and all public services in general), Waste Management seems weaker and challengeable: there is ONE (at least for Beirut and Mount Lebanon) and well identify private player to be held accountable. You, as newspaper, know much better that anyone how difficult is to have the political caste shouldering its responsibility. The only way is to play smarter and pretend to be "naive". One of the good things that this global financial and economic crisis surfaced is to unmask a lot of the poorest or less sophisticated private and public frauds (usually those with enormous margins): from now on if anybody wants to steal money or harm he is forced to invest (in a way paying back something to the community) and not only bribe the Authorities for cheap. That is why, if it is true that the Lebanese State is paying WM services 7 times more than the market average (enormous margin), it should be very easy to make questions and very difficult to avoid answers. Have a nice day. Paolo

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