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10 Dec 2007 00:04:34 GMT
Source: Reuters 

By Alistair Lyon, Special Correspondent SIDON, Lebanon, Dec 10 (Reuters) -

Every day bulldozers pile more garbage on to a mountain of waste on the Sidon seafront in a symbol of Lebanon's environmental problems, aggravated, activists say, by politics, mismanagement and greed.

The dump, towering about 20 metres (60 feet) high near schools, hospitals and apartment blocks in Lebanon's third biggest city, has partially collapsed into the Mediterranean at least twice, prompting complaints from Cyprus, Syria and Turkey after currents swept rubbish on to their beaches. Last year, an oil spill caused by Israeli bombing of fuel tanks at the Jiyyeh power plant south of Beirut during a 34-day war with Hezbollah guerrillas aroused international concern. However, most of Lebanon's environmental blight is home-grown. Almost all its sewage is pumped untreated into the sea, with some chemical effluent from relatively small industrial clusters along a 225-km (140-mile) coastline disfigured by uncontrolled land reclamation and haphazard private construction. Lebanese boast of their country's natural beauty, but many dump litter at roadsides and picnic sites without a second thought.

"It's not any more about blaming Israel," said Greenpeace campaigner Ghalia Fayad. "Look at us, we are the ones who have been harming the environment, way before the Israeli bombing." The Sidon dump, originally created to dispose of debris from buildings bombed in Israel's 1982 invasion of Lebanon, threatens public health, marine life and the livelihood of fishermen.



For now, Sidon's 200,000 residents have to live with the fumes, rats, mosquitoes, flies and stray dogs around the dump. "A lot of people living nearby have chronic bronchitis and allergic asthma attacks," said hospital doctor Nasser Hammoud.

Environmental campaigners say Sidon's waste mountain is a very visible example of wider problems of weak governance, overlapping bureaucracies, self-interest and neglect. "Nobody wants waste in their backyard, so we just keep on overloading the existing dumps," said Manal Nader, director of the Environment Institute at Balamand University. "It's not the responsibility of communities to deal with solid waste treatment. It's the government's job to bring out a holistic plan and enforce it. Unfortunately, Lebanon is divided into different areas controlled by different groups." Nader said environmental groups often found themselves opposing potential solutions simply because past experience had taught them to doubt they would be properly implemented. "Rehabilitation of quarries, say, has to follow a delicate protocol to prevent contamination of ground water," he said. "But there is no control, no monitoring and no accountability."

Lebanon's political crisis over the choice of a new president, which has paralysed parliament and other institutions for months, has complicated the task of the Environment Ministry, without a minister for the past year.