BEIRUT: Flies are devouring Karantina neighborhoods, with residents reporting that the swarm descended on the area last week. They say they have been betrayed by local authorities who in July said that they would use Karantina to store trash for no more than 10 to 15 days during what has turned into a persisting garbage crisis.
At the corner of a dirt pitch where children are playing football, flies covered a discarded mattress like sesame seeds on a kaake.
“Of course I’m worried about my children,” said Abou Claude, whose 7-year old son is running with the older children. “They’re playing on the field, the trash is next to them, and it’s a miserable situation.”
The Sukomi facilities that process the region’s trash loom large here and their odors have plagued the neighborhood for nearly 20 years. But the swarms of flies came only recently, more than a dozen residents told The Daily Star, adding that they had also noticed more rats than usual.
“The assault has been unnatural,” said Abou Saleh, who was standing with friends at the corner barber shop. The flies blend in with the hair clippings on the floor. “And the rats – don’t even ask about them. They enter our homes. We’ve killed four this past week. My daughter was bitten by a rat on her chin one month ago.”
Since state authorities closed the country’s largest landfill in Naameh on July 17, Beirut officials have been dumping garbage in empty lots in Karantina, while Burj Hammoud officials have been fashioning a huge waste mountain across the Beirut River, not a kilometer away. Residents are certain the flies have been breeding in the trash.
Health officials say the same thing. “Garbage offers the right environment for eggs to grow into flies,” said Rachid Rahme, a physician at Sacre Coeur Hospital in Baabda, who said it was unusual to hear of swarms in November. “The number of flies is directly related to the rubbish problem.”
Flies are common vectors for disease, ferrying bacteria on their appendages from one meal – garbage or feces, for example – to the next – the manoushe in your hand, or your dining room table. In stages, they can travel around a kilometer from where they breed, according to Rahme.
“The second they land on the meat, the bacteria will be transferred. We should advise people to consume their food in closed spaces, and to ensure that flies are not present indoors.” He added.
The scene at a neighborhood grocery store speaks for itself. Flies cover the vegetable stand and buzz in and out of the entrance, which has two doors open to the street.
“They’re eating us. They’re ... everywhere. We’re tired of them. They’re in our rooms, too. They’ve been here for a week now; they’re eating us like we’re meals,” said Zakaria Zohbe, a customer, who slapped his arm midsentence.
Residents spoke with officials three months ago, when trucks first arrived with bales of trash at a lot across from the Bakalian flour mill. The governor and municipal leaders told the community the arrangement was temporary, several residents told The Daily Star, and promised the trash would be removed promptly.
“We went down and closed the street in front of the flour mill when they started dumping there, and we sent a delegation to speak with the municipality – it was supposed to be 10-15 days, to wait for the state to solve it. Well, the state is not able to, what are we supposed to do?” Zohbe added.
Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad promised to convene a crisis meeting to handle the infestation with “precautions” Monday, but said that the true culprit was the trash mountain in Burj Hammoud.
“The open garbage on the eastern bank of Beirut River: This is the problem. This is not our garbage. Our garbage is in relatively good position, because it is being covered and squeezed and put in bales.”
Photographers for The Daily Star report the trash stored in Karantina is indeed baled, but not covered.
“Tomorrow, I’ll make some calls with Burj Hammoud. There has to be an action taken,” Hamad said.
Residents are familiar with the sight of pickup trucks with rickety motors in their beds spraying pesticides into the air – though they say they have been absent lately – but such measure may not extinguish the swarm at this point, Rahme said.
“I think the effect will be negligible because the breeding grounds are still there. You could kill many flying insects, but those who are maturing after a few days will not be affected,” he said.
“We need a very good rainfall and we need to take the rubbish out of the street.”
As for Karantina, Hamad said the city had little choice but to continue storing trash there, after a September Cabinet decision to restart the waste sector failed to reach the implementation phase and collapsed last week.
“The problem is that we are stuck. We expected the government to start its plan, but it seems there are problems, and we have no place to take the garbage,” Hamad said. “How can we burn it? We will cause an even bigger problem, so we’re stuck.”
Residents, in the meantime, are waiting to get sick.
“There are no diseases, but these things take time,” Abou Claude said.
“We have no illnesses yet, but of course [the flies] bring diseases,” said Tatia Abbas, who was sitting on her veranda with four of her relatives. “What’s the municipality doing? They aren’t coming to spray. Send my regards to the municipality!”