By Mohammed Zaatari

SIDON, Lebanon: Sidon is just a few steps away from fulfilling a longstanding dream: Getting rid of its suffocating and toxic landfill. The initiative to clear the garbage site was launched after Saudi Arabia donated $20 million to support efforts.

The United Nations Development Program is overseeing and providing consulting services for the clearance project, along with the Sidon Municipality and the Environment Ministry.

The companies SUEZ Environment and Al-Jihad for Commerce and Contracting have been commissioned as the implementing agency to see the cleanup through.

As the final cleanup and rehabilitation stage approaches, contractors and UNDP consultants organized a tour for the media to provide a detailed update about the progress of the project so far. The first stage saw the extraction of harmful gases from the dump and separating the garbage, the elimination of toxic materials and the transferral of waste materials to the waste-sorting plant.

A laboratory, constructed by a French team, was established in the plant to examine inorganic materials extracted from the waste before they were included as part of a wave breaker, to prevent high tides to reach the site during the winter months.

As for the organic materials extracted from the waste, they will be put aside to decompose for other energy extraction purposes.

“The city will finally be able to get rid of its shameful garbage mountain and the site will be turned into an entertainment complex for its residents,” said UNDP resident representative Robert Watkins.

After the tour, officials and journalists held a meeting at Sidon’s municipality building, where Watkins addressed reporters.

“We have made much progress to get rid of this problem and I would like to thank the Sidon municipality and the Environment Ministry for their hard work. I hope this project will be finalized within the allotted time limit,” he said.

Separately, MP Bahia Hariri described dismantling the Sidon landfill as a “historic achievement.”

Hariri was speaking after receiving Watkins and UNDP engineer Edgar Chehab following the tour.

Watkins expressed his satisfaction to Hariri concerning the progress of the project, and said that it was being implemented in accordance with international standards.

“This project is an historic achievement that will relieve the city and the southern coast from a chronic environmental burden,” Hariri said.

The landfill was established in 1982 and contained between 50-60 percent of solid waste and 35-40 percent of biodegradable material.

Plans to close down the landfill were launched in October 2012 by the municipality of Sidon. The site, which contained some 2 million cubic meters of waste, was known to cave in during the wet winter months, channeling garbage into the sea and the city’s beaches.

The area also caught on fire several times last year, prompting the municipality to make the long-awaited decision of doing away with the landfill for good.

The dump site covers an area of 60,000 square meters and until recently received about 300 tons of solid waste per day, prompting environmental experts to voice concern that it was emitting harmful toxic gases.

In August, Sidon Mayor Mohammad Saudi said efforts to clean the landfill would require three stages. The first would require installing collection and control systems to eradicate the harmful gases emanating from the landfill, the second would sort organic material from rubble, and the last stage would treat the organic matter with anaerobic fermentation to produce energy.

The leftover rubble was to be used to construct a break water to create a barrier between the dump site and the new Abu Rouh Port.

The total cost of dismantling the landfill was reportedly about $25,000,000, spread over 30 months.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 04, 2013, on page 4.

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(The Daily Star :: Lebanon News ::