Beirut 'trashed' as landfill shuts

Piles of garbage left on a street in a residential area in Beirut, Lebanon.
Piles of garbage left on a street in a residential area in Beirut, Lebanon.PHOTO: EUROPEAN PRESSPHOTO AGENCY

BEIRUT • The humid summer air of Beirut has started to reek as uncollected trash piles up in the streets after protesters shut down Lebanon's largest landfill at a time of political paralysis.

The growing heaps have been dusted with white poison powder to keep away rats and insects, but the measure does little to combat the odour. Ordinarily, the city's trash is disposed of at the Naameh landfill in the mountains south-east of Beirut, the endpoint for waste produced by around half of Lebanon's four million citizens.

But for days, local villagers fed up with living next to the garbage site have blocked entry, preventing any new trash from being dumped and insisting they will not leave until it is shut down for good.

"In Beirut, it's only been four or five days of garbage and people already can't take it. We have been dealing with Lebanon's trash for the last 17 years," said Mr Youssef Halabi, 28, a resident of Aramoun village near the landfill.

The Naameh landfill opened in 1997 in a verdant valley outside Beirut. It was meant to receive trash from the capital and the heavily populated Mount Lebanon area for only a few years until a comprehensive solution was devised.

As nearly 20 years ticked by, the valley that was originally expected to receive only two million tonnes of waste swelled into a trash mountain of over 15 million tonnes.

Residents living nearby allege gases produced by the garbage site cause health problems. "This area suffers from high cancer rates, residents have incurable diseases, skin diseases, breathing problems," said resident Raghida Halabi, 41, from Abey, another village by the landfill.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2015, with the headline 'Beirut 'trashed' as landfill shuts'. Print Edition | Subscribe