Port staff to protest dumping of garbage


19 August 2015

BEIRUT: Beirut Port workers will start a two-day strike Wednesday to protest the dumping of garbage near the facility.

“We announced the strike after everyone was shocked by resumption of waste dumping activities,” Beshara al-Asmar, the head of the Workers and Employees Union at the port, told Voice of Lebanon radio station.

The union enacted a one-day “warning” strike last week, when trucks were discovered dumping garbage by warehouse AB.

Asmar said two excavators were again brought to the area to shovel trash Tuesday, despite several warnings by staff and officials. Strikers won’t allow them to operate, he said.

“We’ll have a work-stoppage. And we’ll be ready to move to wherever they decide to dump the trash. Because we won’t allow the port port to become a dump for Beirut’s waste,” Asmar told The Daily Star.

The decision was conveyed to the port’s chairman, Hasan Koraytem.

Environment Minister Mohammad Machnouk is expected to announce the winning bids for the country’s waste management contracts Wednesday.

A January Cabinet decree to overhaul the sector groups municipalities into six waste management regions, though local officials have been asking for autonomy over their own affairs.

The government missed the deadline to decide the new contracts by July 17, when the one held by Sukleen’s parent company Averda expired. Averda handled the garbage for Beirut and Mount Lebanon.

On the same day, the government also closed the region’s primary landfill, in Naameh, which had long before exceeded its capacity. The Environment Ministry ordered municipalities bury their own trash.

As trash began to accumulate on the streets, municipalities and private individuals turned to dumping in valleys, forests and populated areas, and setting the piles on fire.

Much of Beirut’s trash has been dumped by the port in Karantina.

Machnouk has warned that even after the contracts are awarded Wednesday, Beirut and Mount Lebanon residents will have to wait another six months for normal garbage services to resume, in order to allow companies time to prepare their operations.

In comments Tuesday, Minister of State Nabil de Freij, a Beirut MP, questioned how garbage would be handled during the interim.

“Will Sukleen continue its work? Where will it dispose of the garbage it collects?” De Freij asked. Sukleen has been maintaining its operations at the government’s request, even though its contract already expired.

De Freij said he hoped the contract decisions would merit some confidence in the government, allowing authorities to open provisional dumps. Over the past month, demonstrators have been blocking major roadways to prohibit the capital from burying its trash in other locations, such as Sibline, the Metn, Hbaline and Tripoli.

“The one positive thing to come out of reaching this milestone is that perhaps we can extend the life of existing landfills or agree on temporary sites, whether in Akkar or the Chouf, until the new company can begin its work,” he said.

At a news conference Tuesday, Agricultural Minister Akram Chehayeb warned that ongoing disposal operations in the country’s forests were spoiling its “riches.”

“Just as we were teaching the country to prevent forest fires, the municipalities begin deliberately dumping trash in the forests and agricultural areas. This trash is a source of environmental harm and will cause fires in these hot, summer months,” he said.

He said Civil Defense has recorded 250 forest fires since the Naameh landfill closed, and most of them started in makeshift dumps.

Chehayeb also voiced alarm about damage to the country’s ancient pine groves, which have also been afflicted with a viral plague over the past three years.

© Copyright The Daily Star 2015.