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Akkar residents bristle over government rubbish plan.

Summary: Residents in the northern district of Akkar are seething over a government plan to dump Beirut's and Mount Lebanon's trash in the Srar dump.

SRAR DUMP, Lebanon: Residents in the northern district of Akkar are seething over a government plan to dump Beirut's and Mount Lebanon's trash in the Srar dump, which they fear will eventually threaten the country's most impoverished region with a looming environmental hazard. Various sections of the population in Akkar are outraged that their region, which includes the largest agricultural land after the Bekaa Valley, would be used as a dump or a landfill for garbage collected from Beirut and Mount Lebanon.

"We were waiting for development projects to buttress Akkar's residents to stay in their villages. Instead, the government surprised us by offering to dump Lebanon's garbage amid our villages," said Rawad Ghattas, an activist from the "Akkar is not a Dump" movement.

"We are seeking to spread public awareness of the risks entailed in setting up a dump in the Srar area because pollution will not be confined to some villages, but it will engulf all the district," he said. He added that pollution would affect the fertile plain up to the highlands which includes the best natural areas in Lebanon.

Cabinet last month approved Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb's plan to end the 2-month-old garbage crisis by transforming the Srar dump into a sanitary landfill and establishing another one in east Lebanon, reopening the Naameh landfill for seven days and supporting robust waste recycling initiatives.

The Cabinet in August also promised $100 million to the deprived Akkar district in the hopes of opening a dialogue to establish a landfill there. While Chehayeb was struggling to remove obstacles facing the implementation of his trash plan, mainly from local residents and civil society groups, the minister announced Wednesday that trucks would soon begin to haul Mount Lebanon trash to a waste disposal ground in Akkar.

"Our work is serious at the Srar landfill, and we will begin soon, despite the opposition," Chehayeb told Future TV. "It is up to us to make the site into a sanitary landfill, because we do not accept that Srar becomes a dump," he said, appropriating the name of a campaign to refuse the trash transfer.

The Akkar is not a Dump movement has announced an open-ended strike to block garbage trucks bound for the disposal grounds in Srar.

"We pronounce an open-ended strike until Chehayeb's plan is reversed, or at least amended," the movement's spokesperson Bernard Obeid said Wednesday.

One has to drive through a string of villages on the fringe of the Akkar plain near Nahr al-Kabir River to reach the Srar dump, which is located on a remote land, about 1 kilometer from residential areas.

Covering an area of about 1 million square meters, the Srar dump is owned by Khaldoun Yassin Merehbi. As part of ongoing construction, bulldozers are working to expand the road leading to the dump to prepare it for receiving the trash.

The dump's guards refused to speak to the press, but information indicates that dumping garbage on this land has begun 18 days ago.

The dump was originally destined to receive trash from Akkar's towns and villages. Now with Chehayeb's trash plan calling for dumping Beirut's and Mount Lebanon's waste in the Srar facility, Akkar's residents fear that the facility would face the same fate as that of Naameh landfill.

Merehbi said the Srar dump is ready to receive Beirut's trash within the next few days. "We haven't been informed yet about the zero hour for the implementation of Agriculture Minister Akram Chehayeb's garbage plan," Merehbi told Voice of Lebanon Radio.

However, he said that the dump would be able to receive Beirut's trash within the upcoming days, denying that the facility enjoys certain political cover.

The Srar dump currently accepts 400 tons of waste daily.

The land was surveyed by a team of specialists who concluded it would be able to accommodate larger amounts of trash. However, activists and local residents remain opposed to transforming the dump into a large landfill over health and environmental concerns.

The Akkar is not a Dump campaign said that a number of its activists were assaulted by Merehbi's employees for filming work being done on the controversial site.

The activists were "touring the town of Shir Hmeirin in Akkar [located 3 kilometers away from Srar dump], filming the dump and the damages it's inflicting on the town," the group said on its official Facebook page.

Residents of Sheikh Ayyash, a town near Srar, vowed to oppose the building of a trash dump near their area. "We will not accept an environmental crime that will be committed by the state by transferring Srar into a natural reserve for a trash dump," one of the town's residents said.

"We are today preparing for an open confrontation if the Srar dump is adopted as a place for garbage assembly," he added.

Amid the growing opposition to the Srar dump, Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk has visited the area, promising to implement development projects in Akkar in exchange for the adoption of the Srar dump after it has been rehabilitated.

Sources close to Machnouk said discussions are underway through Chehayeb to find environmental solutions to the problem of waste dumping, adding that fears of polluting the soil and ground water are unjustified.

The Mayor of Sindyana town Ali Hamad denied that the Srar area would be used as a trash dump as they had been told by Machnouk, adding that the facility would be rehabilitated to serve as a landfill that can accommodate about 1,500 tons of trash, while garbage would be distributed to other areas.

"Akkar is suffering from a chronic problem related to the random dumping of trash. There are about 33 dumps throughout Akkar where trash is dumped at random," Hamad said.

"We are trying with the Interior Ministry to contain this problem by rehabilitating the Srar dump so that it can be ready to receive trash from Akkar and outside it," he added.

Hamad said he had told government officials that Akkar is "a development-stricken area," and the talk about dumping waste in Srar would further complicate the situation in the region.

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Publication:The Daily Star (Beirut, Lebanon)
Date:Oct 3, 2015
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