By Mohammed Zaatari
Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sidon residents extracting copper to survive

SIDON: Thick black smoke that covers the skies of the southern coastal city of Sidon is not always due to the burning of garbage or unused tires, but the result of a new street profession which consists of burning electricity cables to extract the inner copper and sell it on the market.

The profession, which has recently become more popular in the city, does not really return big profits but only marginal gains, from L.L.7,000 per kilogram of copper.

As he tried to pull a stretch of thread of copper from the cable, one of the practitioners of the profession, Abu Hassan al-Hamad, told The Daily Star that this work does not need capital but only human efforts.

Facing difficult circumstances in life, many in Lebanon’s poor make a daily living by gathering different kinds of metals such as copper, tin, aluminum and even mercury from garbage cans and even dumps throughout the country.

According to Hamad many people are taking on the work as a result of the increasing rate of construction in the city. “The construction boom in Sidon leaves behind a large excess of electricity cables,” he added.

Practitioners, who burn the electricity cables to extract the embedded copper said the tiny profit allocated from setting the cables on fire only serves to fight poverty.

Hamad, who roams the coastal city during the day selling traditional Lebanese kaak, said life’s hardships require him to practice the cable burning every day although he admits it was a bad in that it pollutes the environment.

A junior high school student, Nasser, who also practices the illegal profession on his days off, said that he gathers the remains of electricity cables from every street in his neighborhood to help his father. “When I get back to the site to burn the cables I collected, I am always worried that the police would bust us for illegal behavior and polluting the environment,” Nasser said as he retrieved 3 kilograms of copper.

While Nasser avoided getting traced by the Internal Security Forces; Abu Mahmoud Jabla had to run following an I.S.F. raid at the site where fires burned more than 10 kilograms of copper, covering the sky with a black mist.

“We want to live, and a bit of black smoke in the skies won’t destroy the planet,” said Jabla.