15 August 2015

BEIRUT: Economy Minister Alain Hakim warned that garbage was polluting vital Karantina industries Friday, after touring the area and visiting a major flour mill there. The capital has been piling bales of treated municipal waste in lots in the isolated, industrial quarter since late July. The ongoing disposal operations pose a hazard to the surrounding silos, flour mills and port facilities, as well as to the quarter’s predominantly working-class residents, Hakim said.

The Bakalian flour mill in Karantina produces 40 percent of the Lebanese market’s flour. After visiting the plant, Hakim said the “belt of garbage” surrounding it threatened sanitation, but that he would still eat from the mill and from the nearby commercial fish market for now.

“I’m raising the alarm before [the garbage] creates a food crisis. We need to take precautions so this doesn’t reach that point. We need to resolve the trash crisis as fast as possible,” Hakim told The Daily Star.

“This place is ill-fated. You can definitely smell the garbage at the mill. You can see from the rooftop, there’s 100 meters to the waste.”

Members of the Union of Beirut Port Workers went on strike Thursday to protest the trash accumulation. They resumed work Friday, but the union president Beshara al-Asmar said they could decide to strike again next week, pending an internal meeting Monday. He said the union would invite the environment movements, civil society organizations and other unions to join.

“We are in solidarity with [the union]. We support their moves,” said Paul Abi Rachid, the head of Lebanon EcoMovement, a coalition of environmental organizations. He did not speculate whether the union and the environmentalists would coordinate actions.

Beirut Mayor Bilal Hamad said Thursday the disposal operations in Karantina were temporary, and he hoped a private contractor could manufacture a solution next week.

The government is expected to award new waste management contracts Tuesday. The last contract to cover Beirut and Mount Lebanon, held by Sukleen’s parent company Averda, expired July 17, though the company is continuing its operations for now.

“[Karantina] is a sensitive area, because it’s an area that’s alive,” Hakim said, referring to the thousands who live there and to the thousands more who come every day to work in its industries.

He called on the state to reuse landfills, or to export waste abroad to relieve the city in the near term. Municipal officials and Cabinet ministers have been studying the export options for two weeks, but are yet to arrive at a result.

In Tripoli Friday, two dozen demonstrators gathered at the Grand Serail to demand the rest of the country stop dumping its trash in their city.

The activists, from the local group the Independent Civil Action Committee, said trucks were coming from various regions to dump in the country’s second-largest city. They demanded authorities take action to “stop these illegal practices.”

Lebanon has been grappling with a garbage crisis since July, when the country’s largest landfill, in Naameh, closed, long after it had exceeded capacity. State officials still have not settled on an alternative waste management regime.