sábado, 25 de enero de 2014

Lebanese Trash

When I was little, my parents used to take the family on amazing road-trips. We would pack our bags, and set off to an unknown and exciting destination. Depending on the direction we went, we would inevitably pass the enormous dumpsters that surrounded some parts of Mexico City back in the 1980s.
We would joke about the horrible smell and hope to pass the piles of trash as soon as possible. Even then, at a very young age, I knew there was something really wrong about just dumping stuff on the land like that.

Years later, I witnessed a similar trash travesti somewehere else. I was visiting Saida in the south of Lebanon over a weekend, and I stumbled upon the most gigantic mountain of trash I had ever seen.

According to the Lebanese Ministry of the Environment, Lebanon generates about 1.5 million tones of trash every year.  From all this waste, only 17% gets recycled or composted.  51% of this waste goes to landfills, better known as dumps.  But this is not the only problem…  40% of Lebanon’s garbage, that is over 32,000 tons, ends up in illegal and non-regulated dumps every year.

This is about 88 tons of waste in the open air, every day.

Some attribute the problem of Solid Waste Management (SWM) to a much bigger issue, which is political indecision. In a 2011 report published by UNDP and the Ministry of the Enviroment, the problem of Solid Waste Management is linked to a lack of long term vision and political commitment and concensus. The Lebanese Goverment has been relying on and "Emergency Plan for Solid Waste Management" for the Beirut/Mount Lebanon area that has been in effect since 1997 (that is a loooong emergency).  This plan effectively gives the Sukkar Engineering Group (a.k.a Sukleen) the monopoly to collect, treat, and landfill solid waste from an area serving about 2 million people (364 towns and municipalities). Leaving the controversies linked to Sukleen's system costs, and effectiveness of sorting and composting plants aside, we can say that effectively, little has been done to manage trash in a sustainable and effective way in Lebanon.

Recently, citizens decided to block the entrance to Sukleen trucks to one of the landfills. The reason behind this blockade is that citizens and NGOs have started protesting against the effects the Naameh landfill is having on their living conditions and overall quality of life. They are demanding the goverment to find an alternative to the landfill and for the stipulations of the landfill contract to be enforced (i.e. burry waste, limits to the types of waste allowed, restriction on quantities...). In fact, the Naameh landfill opened in 1997 and was set to operate for six years. The date came and went, and the landfill exceeded its capacity and height a long time ago.

Confrontations between the protesters and the Lebanese Internal Security Forces have taken place and Sukleen has stopped picking up trash, which resulted in small mountains of waste quickly accumulating in the streets of many cities.

Now it turns out that after all these years, I get to have my own mountain of trash in the corner of my street. Here's a photo of the pile (accumulated in only a few days). Even street cats are starting to avoid it.

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