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Pollution threatens Lebanon.

After 15 years of civil war Lebanon and the whole eastern region of the Mediterranean is now confronted with an ecological disaster. For years nuclear waste has been dumped off the beautiful Lebanese coast. Hundreds of barrels filled with nuclear waste have been concealed along the shore.

Every day 19 year old Wael Ghawi swims in the sea, off Beirut. Wael is a member of the Najah Swimming Club and in training for the 1996 Arab Games, to be held in the Lebanese capitol. As part of his work out Wael must swim for at least 10 minutes through literally tons of garbage that floats on the surface of the Mediterranean, in full sight of this once beautiful city.

The immense garbage dump that has risen out of the sea directly in front of the former luxurious hotel district of Beirut is a disgrace but it also poises a serious threat. For among ten years worth of untreated garbage and city filth, there exists an unknown number of barrels containing nuclear waste from Italy, Turkey and Romania.

The dump is producing dangerous concentrations of methane and other poisonous gases and the problem is spreading, beyond the shores of Lebanon to as far afield as Greece, Syria, Turkey and northern Israel. There is no government control on industrial pollution in Lebanon and all over the country factories are belching their fumes into air which is already badly polluted from hundreds of garbage dump fires, scores of private generators running all day because mains electricity is rarely available and broken down European cars that have, over the years, increasingly found their way onto the Lebanese second hand car market.

Lebanon became a dump for used western cars that would not be allowed on European roads but are welcomed in Lebanon as both taxis and a means of private transportation. Nobody, it seems, has ever heard of lead-free fuel. The war years have taken their toll in all areas of life. To the visitor it is immediately apparent that little personal discipline exists.

Without the slightest sense of guilt the Lebanese will throw all kinds of garbage and items they no longer need, into the street. Rafiq Hariri's government provided garbage containers throughout the streets of Beirut but long years of deprivation have taken their toll. The Lebanese carelessly throw their rubbish next to the containers so that wild dogs, cats and the thousands of rats that inhabit the city, can scavenge through it.

Beirut's beautiful Corniche, once the most select boulevard in the world, on which to see and be seen, looks like a garbage dump in itself. Even streets around the prestigious American University of Beirut such as Rue Bliss, are just thoroughfares full of rubbish, as a result of the careless attitude of students who park their cars near the areas hamburger and ice cream bars, eat, and then dump all their leftovers and packaging out of their car windows. "I'm afraid its a matter of mentality," explained Joseph Giessen, a 19 year old student at AUB. "The students talk about the nuclear waste off the coast but they don't understand that in principle thowing their empty cola cans out of their car windows is the same thing."

The former garbage disposal factory in Qarantina, the coastal area of East Beirut, which served Beirut, has been out of action for more than 17 years but the Hariri government are trying to get it going again before Beirut suffocates in its own waste.

With much personal effort from Naief Maalouf, the mayor of Beirut, a $1m garbage burning plant was opened this summer in Amroussiyeh in south Beirut. Now, a quarter of a million tons of garbage are burned there every day, although every day garbage trucks continue to dump directly into the sea. "One of the results of the war is that people don't care anymore," says 67 year old Abu Kamal, a local fisherman who for more than half a century has been fishing out of Manara port, on the Corniche. These days he has to row his small boat through acres of city garbage before he can cast his nets. "Lebanese people have lost their respect for nature, as they have lost respect for just about everything," Abu Kamal observes.

Ellie Nassaf, an engineer working on planning the development of new Beirut, is less philosophical in this thinking: We have to stop the pollution," he says. "Before the pollution stops us."
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Title Annotation:Mosaic
Author:Van Noord, Jos
Publication:The Middle East
Date:Nov 1, 1993
Previous Article:Splendours of the Bosphorus.
Next Article:Taken on Trust.

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