Workers began at the weekend removing tonnes of rubbish that have piled up around Lebanon’s capital under a government plan to end an eight-month crisis that has sparked repeated protests.
Civil society activists and environmental experts once again lashed out at the plan, warning that it does nothing to allay the ecological concerns that took them to the streets in the first place.
Beirut’s suburbs have been awash in trash for months following the closure in July of the country’s largest landfill at Naameh, just south of the Lebanese capital.
Rubbish has piled up on beaches and in forests and riverbeds elsewhere in the country.
The government last week said it would temporarily reopen the Naameh landfill to ease the crisis, but civil society activists have opposed the plan, demanding a more environmentally sound solution.
Workers could be seen yesterday at Jdeideh, a suburb north of Beirut, using front loaders to pack piles of trash into dozens of trucks.
“The stench is awful but the roads are open, everything is going well on the road, the security forces are facilitating the flow of traffic,” said Kamil Haddad, one of the workers, who wore a protective mask over his nose and mouth.
The waste, which has laid for months in the open as authorities scrambled to find a solution, will now be transported to a dump operated by Sukleen - the same private waste collection company that threw in the towel after its contract with the government expired last July.
“Things are going all right,” Haddad said, as his colleagues piled trash into trucks.
Naameh was set up in the early 1990s as a temporary measure. Activists and nearby residents have long opposed the use of the site but when it was shut in July no alternative was proposed.
Two other landfills are also planned for Burj Hammoud, a mainly Armenian suburb of northern Beirut, and Costa Brava to the south of the capital, likely for four years.
“The idea of taking the rubbish and dumping it in landfills - this is how the crisis started in the first place. So they (authorities) are basically ignoring the crisis of the past eight months, pretending like nothing happened, and taking us back to square one,” environmental and industrial engineer Ziad Abi Chaker said.
He explained that Lebanon could in fact recycle up to 90% of its waste.
But “there’s a corruption dimension ... There is no huge money to be made out of recycling. The only way to make crazy money is with another corrupt contract,” Abi Chaker said.
“The cherry on the cake is that after the four years, we will have incineration - I don’t know if you can call this a plan, because it certainly has nothing to do with planning.”
Activists from the “You Stink” movement and other groups have also demanded long-term solutions, including investment in recycling and the transfer of waste management duties to municipalities.
The movement has in recent months led a string of protests that has seen thousands of people taking to the streets, accusing the government of mismanagement and corruption, and even calling for its downfall.
“Now the ball is in the court of residents of the areas where the landfills are located,” one leading “You Stink” member told AFP on condition of anonymity, for fear of retribution.
“We do hear some people have started to mobilise in a couple of areas, but when you see the army, security and intelligence forces deployed in the Naameh area - how do you think residents will dare take action?”
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