- Title: LEBANON: Sidon dump typifies Lebanon's environmental woes
- Date: 11th December 2007
- Summary: (MER2) SIDON, LEBANON (RECENT) (REUTERS) BOAT DRIVING BY IN SEA DOG STANDING AT TOP OF RUBBISH DUMP WIDE OF BOAT IN SEA
- Embargoed: 26th December 2007 08:57
- Location: Lebanon
- Country: Lebanon
- Topics: Environment / Natural World
- Reuters ID: LVAEY320YDSZY4ZRH5AKNL7XJL6B
- Aspect Ratio: 4:3
- Story Text: A 20-metre-high mountain of rubbish on the coast of the Mediterranean near the Lebanese city of Sidon stands witness to Lebanon's environmental problems and political woes.
Every day bulldozers push more garbage onto a mountain of waste fouling the Sidon seafront in a symbol of Lebanon's chronic environmental problems, which activists say are worsened by politics, mismanagement and greed.
The dump, rearing about 20 metres (60 feet) high near schools, hospitals and apartment blocks in Lebanon's second biggest city, has partially collapsed into the Mediterranean at least twice, prompting complaints from Cyprus, Syria and Turkey as currents swept trash onto their beaches.
Last year's oil spill caused by Israeli bombing of fuel tanks at the Jiyyeh power plant south of Beirut during a 34-day war with Hezbollah guerrillas aroused international concern. But many of Lebanon's other environmental blights are homegrown.
Almost all its sewage is pumped raw into the sea, along with some chemical effluent from relatively small industrial clusters along a 225-km (140-mile) coastline disfigured by uncontrolled land reclamation and haphazard private construction.
Many Lebanese boast of their country's natural beauty, but litter roadsides and picnic sites without a second thought.
The Sidon dump, originally created to dispose of debris from buildings bombed in Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, threatens public health, marine life and the livelihood of fishermen.
Plastic bags snag on fishing lines, nets and propellors, and suffocate turtles which mistake them for jellyfish and eat them.
Toxic liquids seeping invisibly from the dump into the sea or groundwater are even more damaging, environmentalists say.
Environment groups have accused Sidon municipality of occasionally shovelling untreated garbage straight into the sea and of failing to protect the dump from winter storms that lash against it. But its mayor, Abdul Rahman al-Bizri, strongly denies that.
Any inquiry into the riddle of the mountain leads swiftly into conflicting tales of political motives, contested cleanup proposals, land speculation, funding and princely generosity.
Al-Bizri said he has secured a five million U.S. dollar grant from Saudi billionaire Prince al-Waleed bin Talal, whose grandfather came from the city, to remove the dump. That was three years ago, but the money has yet to be spent.
Al-Bizri said a land reclamation plan had proved too costly, while schemes to dispose of rubble out at sea or in a quarry had been foiled by objections orchestrated by his local political foes -- the family of slain ex-Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
A treatment plant near the dump, designed to process waste into fertilisers, gas, liquid gas and even electricity, was due to be completed in 2005, but is still not functioning.
Al-Bizri says that rubbish management, like many other matters affecting every day life in Lebanon, is controlled by political and sectarian considerations.
"The dump is controlled by politics. Rubbish in Lebanon is governed by regions, religions and sects. People will say: this is rubbish from the Sunnis being dumped in Shi'ite areas or Druze or Maronite areas. And if rubbish comes to Sidon, they says it's the Shi'ites throwing their garbage on the Sunnis and so on with the Druze and Maronites. I mean, unfortunately, in Lebanon everyone sings in their own key," al-Bizri said.
Al-Bizri said solving the problem was a task for the government -- run by factions led by al-Hariri's son.
For now, Sidon's 200,000 residents have to live with the fumes, rats, mosquitoes, flies and stray dogs around the dump.
Al-Bizri said of all the proposed solutions, building a wavebreaker that would prevent the rubbish from falling into the sea and contain the rubbish was the best, simply because it would not involve raising sectarian tension by moving the rubbish elsewhere.
But one environmental activist believes a such solution would only delay dealing with the problem rather than solving it.
"At the end of the day, building a wavebreaker will not solve the problem but will just put it off. This problem has been around for years and years and needs to be solved immediately, it can't wait until half the (rubbish) mountain collapses into the sea. And if you're building a wavebreaker, that's going to take time," said Greenpeace activist Ghalia Fayad.
Fayad said Lebanon's environmental problems effected others in the Mediterranean region.
"Ten years ago, they woke up in the south of France to find garbage on their shores from Lebanon. This shows that the danger is not only to the marine environment in Lebanon but throughout the whole Mediterranean region. We should not forget that the Mediterranean is an almost closed sea," Fayad said.
Environmental campaigners say Sidon's waste mountain is a very visible example of wider problems of weak governance, overlapping bureaucracies, self-interest and neglect.
Lebanon's political crisis, which has paralysed parliament and other institutions, complicates the task of the environment ministry, which has run without a minister for the past year.
A spokeswoman for the ministry's urban environment protection arm said a framework law for solid waste management had yet to be passed. An action plan to fulfill Lebanon's commitments to protect the Mediterranean was awaiting funding.
Twelve wastewater plants for coastal towns were being built or studied, the spokeswoman said, but acknowledged that sometimes lack of money meant the plants were not connected to sewage networks.
As for the Sidon rubbish mountain, the spokeswoman said the ministry's policy was to close or rehabilitate all such dumps but added that the country lacked an overall framework to deal with solid wastes, which means there is no legislation that facilitates the process.
- Copyright Holder: REUTERS
- Copyright Notice: (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2020. Open For Restrictions - http://about.reuters.com/fulllegal.asp
- Usage Terms/Restrictions: None