Thursday,14 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)
Thursday,14 December, 2017
Issue 1258, (13 - 19 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Lebanon’s rubbish crisis

Lebanon’s feuding politicians are now fighting over what to do with Beirut’s trash, reports Hassan Al-Qishawi in Beirut

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Rubbish is piling up everywhere in Beirut, a city once associated with elegance and high fashion, upscale restaurants and smart shopping streets. And whenever officials try to figure out a solution, they run into not just the usual financial and bureaucratic barriers, but also sectarian ones as well.

In a bid to counter the stench and public health risk, Sukleen, the company that handles Beirut’s rubbish collection, has sprayed the streets with fumigation agents, but that’s hardly the answer.

Supporters of Future Current blame Hezbollah and its allies, including Free Patriotic Movement leader Michel Aoun, claiming that Hezbollah is obstructing the rubbish disposal to embarrass acting Lebanese President Tammam Salam.

Salam, whose job is coveted by Aoun, is sick and tired of the problem. When protestors recently piled up rubbish in front of his house and set it on fire, he threatened to resign. But in Lebanon’s present situation, finding a replacement would be far from easy, and Sukleen, the company at the heart of the crisis, is known to be close to Future Current, to which Salam belongs.

Walid Junblatt, the chief of Lebanon’s Druze and leader of the Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), a seasoned politician and ultimate pragmatist, is said to be trying to get on the right side of Hezbollah since the latter’s benefactor, Iran, has now made a nuclear deal with the United States that is likely to leave it with more money and greater influence in the region.

Junblatt’s position on the rubbish issue matters, as Lebanon’s biggest waste-disposal site, Matmar Al-Na’mah, is within his sphere of influence. Rumour has it that the PSP has been preventing, or at least encouraging, inhabitants of Al-Na’mah to prevent the transfer of rubbish to the dump.

According to unconfirmed reports, Junblatt is willing to handle rubbish from Muslim-dominated east and south Beirut. But he wants the Christians to find another place to dispose of the rubbish collected from their areas in east and north Beirut.

When asked about the crisis, Junblatt dismissed the whole thing as a joke. “Are we going to have Muslim and Christian garbage bins now?” he asked.

An attempt has been made to create a rubbish dump in northern Lebanon, which is Muslim-dominated and impoverished. But this plan has faced resistance from local people. There is also a suggestions that rubbish-disposal areas be created in Shia-dominated mountain areas in eastern Lebanon, but Hezbollah does not seem to favour the plan.

As a result, for now the only nonsectarian option is to export the rubbish, and German companies have tendered to take it abroad for recycling, though no deal has yet been reached.

Beirut was once dominated by affluent Sunni and Christian families, but the Shias are now in the majority, especially in the southern suburbs. The city is surrounded by mountains that impede its expansion, and it does not have any empty zones that could be used for waste disposal.

Historically, Beirut relied on Druze-dominated areas near Beirut for urban expansion and rubbish disposal. But as the population grew, the capacity of the rubbish dump in Al-Na’mah has been reached. And the Druze locals naturally expect other parts of the country, and other communities, to share the burden of finding disposal sites for the capital’s rubbish.

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