Lebanon’s Garbage Crisis Is So Severe, Families Are Fleeing into Syria

River of uncollected garbage bags in Beirut Waste crisis, Beirut, Lebanon - 28 Feb 2016 (Rex Features via AP Images)
Rex Features via AP Images

Lebanon’s inability to dispose of its trash has become so severe that some families have decided to move to war-torn Syria.

“We’re going next week. In Syria, there’s a possibility I might die. Here, we’ll definitely die,” Fayyad Ayyash told AFP.

Ayyash tells the outlet he will take his wife and their four young daughters across the border. Their current house looks directly over the Naameh landfill, rendering the property uninhabitable due to the intense smell of garbage. They decided to leave when the government reopened the landfill in March. The smells have prevented his daughters from properly 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 continued.

Once they reopened the landfill, their child immediately started throwing up again. His wife Riham believes “she spends $1,000 per month on doctor’s visits, inhalers, and other medication for her children.” She even sold her wedding ring to pay medical costs. She is ready to move to Syria.

“No, it isn’t safe, but I’m forced to leave… I have a suitcase packed and ready on top of the closet,” she said.

Waste has lined the streets of Beirut, Lebanon, since last summer after the government closed the main landfill. Mountains of garbage and waste line the streets of the capital, which led to numerous demonstrations in 2015. An advocacy group called “You Stink” held a protest in late August, which turned violent and forced the government to deploy army units. The Red Cross reported that 49 people and police officers received injuries.

The nation is currently home to an estimated 100,000 tons. Officials admit it will be hard to convince anyone to take the waste since “it is infectious and compacted.”

“We are coughing, we have allergies and there are mosquitoes and flies in our homes,” explained resident Fadwa Saad. “They say they are removing trash. We hope that they really remove it, not only do it for one day and leave the rest.”

The government moved “more than 8,000 tons of garbage” to the Naameh landfill by the second day of the reopening. Other residents do not believe the government will only keep the landfill open for two months.

“It is all lies,” stated Abed Fakhreddine. “We do not trust the state’s word when it comes to anything… but there is nothing we can do about it for the time being… we just want the garbage gone from our home.”

Officials only dropped off 2,800 to 3,000 tons of trash before they closed the landfill.

“Now it’s about 8,000 to 9,000 tonnes. The operations almost tripled because they’re playing catch-up with the trash that had accumulated,” said Farouk Merhebi from the American University of Beirut. “The waste that has accumulated in streets has fermented, so the smell is offensive… The smell is worse because it’s been there for seven to eight months.”