War-torn Syria a safer option for Lebanese family seeking to escape trash

This article was published at StepFeed on April 7, 2016

Lebanon’s trash crisis has taken on a whole new dimension with one family opting to move to war-torn Syria – ironically – for fear of their safety and wellbeing.

Fayyad Ayyash, and his wife Riham who hails from Syria’s southern Sweida province, believe that their four young daughters, whose ages range from just under two to 10 years, will be better off in Libeen’s open plains.

“We’re going next week. In Syria, there’s a possibility I might die. Here, we’ll definitely die,” Ayyash told AFP.

The couple’s modest two-story home located south of Beirut is just a stone’s throw from the newly reopened Nehmeh landfill, whose closure in July 2015 brought forth an eight month garbage crisis. Piles of steaming, rotting trash lined the country’s streets for months, and haphazard dumps on the shoreline and within forests became the focus of environmental groups and activists.

Piles of trash have become a common sight throughout Lebanon. Source: Facebook/tol3etre7etkom
Piles of trash have become a common sight throughout Lebanon. Source: Facebook/tol3etre7etkom

But with the government’s inability to forge new solutions, ensuing political bickering and mounting protests, the decision came to finally reopen the highly controversial Nehmeh landfill for two months – much to the disappointment of the area’s residents.

“It’s always worse at night than during the day. The whole area is swarming with the same smell and the same sickness,” Ayyash said. “When the dump reopened, my baby immediately started throwing up again.”

From his home, dozens of large trucks can be seen emptying loads of trash into the nearby landfill. Before the crisis began, the average amount of trash dumped in the landfill would reach 2,800 to 3,000 tons per day, but now it’s about 8,000 to 9,000 tons.

“The operations almost tripled because they’re playing catch-up with the trash that had accumulated,” Farouk Merhebi from the American University of Beirut told AFP.

“The waste that has accumulated in streets has fermented, so the smell is offensive … The smell is worse because it’s been there for seven to eight months,” he explained.

Ayyash’s disgruntlement with the situation is a widely shared sentiment. Although the government had promised to clear the streets of accumulated trash, reports of respiratory illnesses have only increased, raising the concern of citizens near and far.

“Yesterday, as I walked to the bank in Dekwaneh, the stench of garbage was so unbearable that I actually threw up on the street. For a split second, I was embarrassed of the scene I just made, but then I started thinking … Am I the one who should feel embarrassed, or is the disgusting mafia responsible for killing us -from its biggest member to its least significant- be the one to feel ashamed? Today, I made the trip from my house to Dekwaneh. The smell was even worse, and I threw up as soon as I made it home. Till now I cannot bear to open any window inside the house because of the appalling smells. If there is one thing I should be ashamed of is my -and our [collective]- silence.  I’m not saying this for the sake of comparing it to greater issues taking place around the world. I am a mere citizen asking for his right to breathe. Shame! Shame! Shame!”

 

“In Kafarmatta, just 10 minutes away from Nehmeh, we wake up every morning to a horrible stench. I don’t know why we are enduring this in silence. If we can’t stand the smell all the way here, I don’t know what’s happening to the people in Baaourti and Nehmeh!”

The long-term health effects of the garbage crisis in general and in areas surrounding the Nehmeh dumpsite in particular remain vague. Merhebi, who is part of a team from the American University of Beirut, is hoping to receive funding to complete research. But for families like Ayyash’s, its no longer worth the wait.

About 
Nadine Mazloum is an Australian born, Beirut bred multimedia journalist, editor, and blogger. She most recently worked as StepFeed's Senior Editor. Before that, she was the news editor and resident blogger for the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation International [LBCI] and has held several positions with well-known media outlets both locally and internationally. Her work appears online both on LBCI and on her personal blog, NewsroomNomad©.

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