BEIRUT/NAAMEH, Lebanon: Efforts to reach an agreement to end a sit-in near a waste dump south of Beirut hit a dead end Sunday, as garbage piled up on the streets of the capital and across Mount Lebanon for a third day.
Locals and environmental activists protesting at the overflowing Naameh waste dump are calling for the permanent closure of the landfill, arguing that it has become a health hazard for residents.
The sit-in, which began Friday, prompted the private company responsible for rubbish removal in Beirut and Mount Lebanon, Sukleen, to stop picking up trash just before the weekend. Rubbish collected in the two areas is normally taken to Naameh, but Sukleen said protesters were blocking the road to the waste dump.
In a bid to resolve the problem, a delegation of activists and mayors of villages affected by the landfill visited Prime Minister-designate Tammam Salam at his Beirut residence.
“In order to give a chance for the prime minister-designate to come up with a radical solution to close the Naameh waste dump through relevant officials and ministries, we agreed with him that we would open the road for Sukleen trucks for 48 hours,” Walid Qadi, an environmental activist, said after the meeting.
But Mohammad Atwi, an activist taking part in the sit-in, told The Daily Star that not all protesters had been consulted about the decision.
“This announcement does not reflect the stance of all protesters, and we say that the sit-in will continue and the road will remain closed until a radical solution for the problem is reached,” he said. Men, women and children from Naameh and surrounding villages joined the environmental activists for the sit-in during its third day. Residents complain about the landfill’s smell and blame it for causing various diseases.
“I am here with a broken heart, as my 22-year-old son died of cancer and I am sure this was the result of waste in the landfill,” said Mohammad Mezher, one of the protesters.
Mark Daw, an environmental activist taking part in the demonstration, told The Daily Star that the problem at the landfill was getting worse.
“The landfill expanded to an area of 300,000 square meters and is now overloaded with 10 million tons of waste,” he said, noting that the site was designed to handle only 2 million tons.
“We are waiting for politicians and officials to take action and ... present assurances that they will soon address the problem.”
In a statement, Sukleen said: “Closing the road leading to the Naameh landfill has forced the company to stop collecting and treating garbage from Beirut and Mount Lebanon.”
Meanwhile, Beirut residents complained about the growing heaps of trash.
“Last night to this morning, [the pile] moved like 3 meters,” said Kamel, a partner at a pub and restaurant in Hamra. “In another two days, the roads will be closed!” – additional reporting by Jana El Hassan and Elise Knutsen