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Trash Tsunami: Lebanon's sea-dumped rubbish comes crashing ashore following storm

The garbage crisis began more than two years ago [AFP/Getty]

Date of publication: 23 January, 2018

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Plastics, tires, footwear, and even cattle bones surfaced this week at Lebanon's once-idyllic Zouk Mosbeh coastline.

A Monday-night storm blew piles of garbage 100 feet inland at the Zouq Mosbeh beach 11 miles north of Beirut – a national embarrassment for a country that has skirted its trash crisis by ditching garbage into the sea.

“Somebody needs to pay for this,” said Paul Abi Rached, an environmentalist who spearheaded a campaign three years ago to overhaul the country’s waste management systems.

Few issues have united Lebanese like the trash crisis – the most conspicuous of the government’s failings to provide basic services to its citizens.

The trash crisis began in August 2015 after the government was unable to secure a new landfill following the closure of the Beirut and Mt Lebanon waste dump site in Naameh, located just south of the Lebanese capital.

Demonstrators rallied under the banner “You Stink” – a reference to both the garbage stench accompanying the summer heat, and the gridlock that has come to define Lebanese politics and paralysed administrative services for years.

Activists and civil society groups say officials are profiting off contracts for landfills and incinerators. They also say the government is using trash for land reclamation – with politically-connected developers cashing in.

A fleet of heavy machinery has been reportedly pouring trash into the Mediterranean since 2017 at a land reclamation site in Dbayeh.

Although the scandal at the Zouq Mosbeh beach dominated Lebanon’s news broadcasts on Monday evening, environmentalists say they were not surprised by the incident.

“The sea is regurgitating our trash," said Joslin Kehdy, who heads Recycle Lebanon, an NGO that has organised a clean-up of Zouq Mosbeh beach every year since 2015. Lebanon’s official waste management plan provides little support to recycling initiatives.

Abi Rached said rough waves had broken down a faulty retraining wall around the coastal Burj Hammoud garbage site east of Beirut, which poured trash into the sea.

The Council for Development and Reconstruction, which oversees the landfill, denied blame for the incident.

Parliamentary elections are scheduled for May, and the garbage crisis is likely to feature as a main issue. Lawmaker Sami Gemayel, who leads the Kataeb party, said he would take the government to international courts over the crisis.

Prime Minister Said Hariri said he ordered authorities to clean the Zouq Mosbeh beach. But a second incoming storm is likely to delay these efforts and bring even more trash.

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