Beirut is struggling with a stinking garbage problem that symbolizes Lebanon’s dysfunctional politics. In remarks published Wednesday by local newspaper An-Nahar, Public Works Minister Ghazi Zeaiter warned that the dumping of trash near Beirut’s airport poses a threat to air travel safety. “Dumping garbage in the vicinity of the airport can adversely affect the temperature of the runway,” he said, adding that it could also attract birds “and this is very dangerous.”
The trash crisis began on July 17, when the Environment Ministry shut down the Naameh landfill (which took in Beirut’s refuse), without securing a substitute location. The landfill was far over-capacity, and nearby residents blockaded the road to protest an expansion. Lebanon’s perpetually-weak and divided government has yet to come up with better alternative dump sites, so the garbage is accumulating in huge piles in Beirut’s streets and along the airport fence.
The government announced unspecified steps to end the crisis, but its previous assurances have all amounted to nothing, and expectations are exceedingly low. Sukleen, the waste management company that services Beirut, has suspended operations several times due to neighborhood protests and the lack of a site to dispose of the garbage. (The closure of the landfill coincided with the ending of the company’s contract with the government, exacerbating the crisis and drawing cries of extortionate foul play.) A ministerial committee tasked with managing solid waste failed to secure new locations to dump the trash on Tuesday and were scheduled to meet again on Wednesday.
Burning the trash, as some residents are doing, causes acrid smoke and harmful air pollution — hardly a better solution. Suggesting that only long-term way out of this mess will be through a political solution. Residents interviewed by The Daily Star were unanimous in suggesting that the solution to the garbage crisis, and to all the country’s woes, was to elect a new parliament without a trace of the current regime. But most doubted that was likely, because of the population’s blind sectarian allegiance. “If someone relies on a certain [political] party for food, medicine, and employment, he will never go demonstrate [against] the garbage crisis, as he would be demonstrating against the very people who help him,” said shopkeeper Abdel-Kareem.
It’s hard to say which is more noxious: the rotting garbage or the sectarian lawmakers blaming each other while refusing to allow new landfills in their own areas.