Lebanon’s waste crisis is seen by some residents as a symptom of the government’s failure to provide basic services to its citizens.
BEIRUT — A winter storm in Lebanon has resurfaced a long-standing national problem, in the form of a swirling sea of garbage.
Piles of trash began washing up Monday on the beaches of Zouk Mosbeh, a town 10 miles north of Beirut, leaving the shore littered with refuse. An earlier storm surge had dragged trash from a landfill out to sea, later depositing it along the coastline and up to 100 feet inland.
Prime Minister Saad Hariri on Tuesday ordered a cleanup of the beaches in the Kaserwan district, home to Zouk Mosbeh and a region filled with beach resorts.
Trucks began carting away the trash that overwhelmed the shoreline, though some experts said the accumulation would continue as winter storms resumed.
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The trash pileup may have resulted from the failure of a marine retaining wall surrounding a huge decades-old landfill, causing trash to flow out and settle on the northern shore line.
Lebanon’s waste crisis, which some residents see as a symptom of the government’s failure to provide basic services to its citizens, has caused public outrage in the past.
In 2015, protests against poor trash collection and management took hold across the country, culminating in the “You Stink” movement — a name that pointed to both the smell of uncollected trash festering in the summer heat, and to the perceived corruption underlying the Lebanese government.
“Instead of using the waste as a resource for the economy, politicians are using it as a means to assert their political agendas,” said Sammy Kayed of the American University of Beirut’s Nature Conservation Center.
The recent accumulation of trash on Lebanon’s coastline — known for its Mediterranean beaches that attract vacationers from across the world — has led politicians to trade jabs ahead of coming parliamentary elections.
Samy Gemayel, a member of Parliament and the leader of Lebanon’s Kataeb political party, called for the resignation of Tareq al-Khatib, the minister of the environment, for “failing to adopt preventive measures” to combat the trash, according to state news media.
Al-Khatib hit back on Tuesday, saying that open dumping in a district overseen by Gemayel’s party was one of the main sources of the garbage.
While politicians take turns laying blame on one another, activists and residents have expressed dismay at Lebanon’s resurgent trash problem.
“This is just one manifestation of something very severe happening in many places, not just in Kaserwarn,” Kayed said. “If they wanted to — if there was a real desire to negotiate and set up the necessary infrastructure for recycling and treating waste as the resource that it has the potential to be — it could be done.”