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Lebanon's Trash Crisis Worsens Amid Rising Heat, Anger

  • Associated Press

Waste management workers cover a pile of garbage using white pesticide in the Palestinian refugee camp of Sabra in Beirut, Lebanon, July 24, 2015.

Waste management workers cover a pile of garbage using white pesticide in the Palestinian refugee camp of Sabra in Beirut, Lebanon, July 24, 2015.

It's summer in this proud Mediterranean city, with celebrities and Lebanese expats flocking to international festivals and parties at Beirut's beaches and nightclubs. But the country's own citizens are suffocating from mountains of stinking garbage collecting on the streets, yet another reflection of government paralysis and its inability to find a solution for the capital's rubbish.

Lebanon has enjoyed relative calm amid the violence afflicting neighboring countries in the past few years. Despite a massive influx of Syrian refugees and occasional outbursts of sectarian clashes, Beirut has largely survived the regional upheaval, even if its politicians have been locked in internal disputes, unable to agree on a new president for more than a year.

But the country's politics caught up with it in the past two weeks after authorities permanently closed down Beirut's main landfill. The Naameh landfill south of Beirut had already been kept open for a year beyond its planned closure, in hopes that the government would find an alternative. It did not.

When the landfill closed July 17, Lebanon's notoriously gridlocked government again failed to take action, leaving piles of smoldering rubbish baking in the sun in the streets of Beirut and its suburbs.

It came amid the busiest time of year in Beirut. International stars such as singer Charles Aznavour, soprano Anna Netrebko and jazz musician Richard Bona are performing at Lebanon's famed summer festivals, and bars and beaches are at full capacity. Partygoers sidestep rotting garbage on the way to bars at Lebanon's famous Gemayzeh street.

As temperatures rise and the country's infamous electricity cuts worsen, the sweltering heat and the stinking, rotting garbage is provoking an outcry from Beirut's two million residents.

"It is a scandal, and what is even a bigger scandal is the politicians who don't feel the need to resign,'' said Paul Abi Rached, the head of the Lebanese Eco Movement.

During a 10-day stoppage, the fumes got so bad that some residents donned surgical masks against the stench. Piles of trash grew on streets, sidewalks and near building entrances.

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