BEIRUT: Ajwad Ayyash remembers playing in the valley below Naameh as a young boy. “It was a beautiful valley with all kinds of trees,” he said. “We used to play in a little creek.”
Ayyash’s childhood play space, however, has long since disappeared beneath millions of tons of trash.
Ayyash is one of the 100-some activists who resumed their blockade of the road leading to the Naameh landfill Tuesday night, protesting what they said were unlivable conditions around the dump. Protesters say the landfill has been filled beyond capacity and is ruining the environment and making residents sick.
Residents of the metro Beirut area found themselves besieged by garbage this past weekend when protesters blocked Sukleen dump trucks from entering the landfill.
Ayyash says the capital is now experiencing the “horrible nightmare” Naameh has known for years.
For at least several hours each day, Ayyash says, a putrid smell emanates from the landfill and smothers the town, making life unbearable for local residents.
“There are some gases that, personally, when I smell them, I almost have a nervous breakdown,” he said.
Ayyash said that those residing in the villages surrounding the landfill were increasingly concerned that gases emanating from the rubbish dump might have harmful health effects.
As waste decomposes it releases methane, a tasteless and odorless gas. While naturally occurring, methane can be toxic to humans in high concentrations.
Methane is also highly flammable. If a landfill lacks adequate ventilation for the methane to dissipate, it can explode.
While different parties have traded accusations of blame, Ayyash said that Sukleen was not directly to blame for the crisis, adding: “Our problem is with the CDR” – the Council for Development and Reconstruction.
The CDR, which oversees many large-scale land-use projects throughout the country including waste management, is responsible for making “recommendations concerning the measures and procedures to be taken with regard to the temporary landfill at Naameh,” according to a council progress report from last November.
CDR engineer Bassam Farhat insists, however, that the Naameh landfill conforms to international standards, adding that according to the CDR’s calculations, the dump can still receive 800,000 tons before it reaches capacity.
“All the precautions are being taken in terms of the environment and in terms of solid waste treatment and gases,” he assured The Daily Star.
He says the protest was a result of “NIMBY syndrome,” using the acronym for ‘not in my backyard.’
“It exists all over the world wherever we have a landfill,” he said.
Still, Farhat insists that the designation of a new landfill site is not within the CDR’s mandate.
“The issue of the location of the landfill, in my opinion, has to be taken by the Cabinet in coordination with the Ministry of Environment, the municipalities, NGOs and people in the area.”
For their part, Sukleen said that their hands were tied as their trucks were hemmed in by protesters.
“Sukleen ceased its operations of collecting garbage at 2:30 a.m. [Wednesday],” a spokesperson told The Daily Star.
The protesters say they are preparing for the long haul. “We want no more garbage dumped at this site, period,” Ayyash said.