Free Press Journal

To flee Lebanon’s trash crisis, family heads to Syria!


magine living near a trash dump so putrid that you would rather move to war-torn Syria. That’s what Fayyad Ayyash, his wife Riham and their four young daughters plan to do next week, leaving behind their home in Lebanon for neighbouring Syria. Their modest two-storey house in the town of Naameh, about 20 kilometres (12 miles) south of the Lebanese capital, directly overlooks the infamous and odorous landfill by the same name. “We’re going next week. In Syria, there’s a possibility I might die. Here, we’ll definitely die,” Fayyad said.

From his grassy backyard, dozens of large trucks carrying tonnes of waste can be seen — and smelled — lining up to add their load to the “trash mountain.”

The July 2015 closure of the notorious landfill lies at the heart of Lebanon’s trash crisis, which has seen rivers of trash spread across the Mediterranean country, triggering protests nationwide.

Then last month, the government made a controversial decision to reopen it — and this was the last straw for residents like Fayyad.

Pulling out a bright blue inhaler, he says his family has been suffering from respiratory problems for months because of the dump. His daughters, whose ages range from just under two to 10 years, all have trouble eating and sleeping. “It’s always worse at night than during the day. The whole area is swarming with the same smell and the same sickness,” he says.

Fayyad says it’s become so bad, he’s decided to flee across the border to the town of Libeen in southern Syria, a country where a conflict has been raging since 2011. The Naameh landfill opened in 1997 and was meant to be a temporary dump, but an alternative site was never opened.

For 20 years, the waste generated in Beirut and Mount Lebanon — the country’s most populous areas — was dumped in Naameh. The verdant valley swelled into a trash mountain of more than 15 million tonnes. Furious residents forced the closure of the site in July 2015, saying it was leading to high cancer rates, skin diseases and breathing problems.

Uncollected rubbish began piling up around Beirut and its suburbs, emitting a horrible stench that sparked protests in downtown Beirut demanding a long-term solution. After months of political wrangling, Lebanon’s cabinet announced a four-year plan to end the waste crisis — and its first step was reopening Naameh for two months. (AFP)