Rubble over rubbish! Lebanese family moves to war-torn Syria to escape trash crisis

Published April 4th, 2016 - 08:12 GMT
Piles of uncollected trash are seen on the streets of Beirut. (File photo)
Piles of uncollected trash are seen on the streets of Beirut. (File photo)

Imagine living near a trash dump so putrid that you would rather move to war-torn Syria.

That's what Fayyad Ayyash, his wife Riham and their four young daughters plan to do next week, leaving behind their home in Lebanon for neighboring Syria.

Their modest two-storey house in the town of Naameh, about 12 miles south of the Lebanese capital, directly overlooks the infamous and odorous landfill by the same name.

"We're going next week. In Syria, there's a possibility I might die. Here, we'll definitely die," Fayyad tells AFP.

From his grassy backyard, dozens of large trucks carrying tonnes of waste can be seen -- and smelled -- lining up to add their load to the "trash mountain."

The July 2015 closure of the notorious landfill lies at the heart of Lebanon's trash crisis, which has seen rivers of trash spread across the Mediterranean country, triggering protests nationwide.

Then last month, the government made a controversial decision to reopen it -- and this was the last straw for residents like Fayyad.

Pulling out a bright blue inhaler, he says his family has been suffering from respiratory problems for months because of the dump.

His daughters, whose ages range from just under two to 10 years, all have trouble eating and sleeping.

"It's always worse at night than during the day. The whole area is swarming with the same smell and the same sickness," he says.

Fayyad says it's become so bad, he's decided to flee across the border to the town of Libeen in southern Syria, a country where a conflict has been raging since 2011.

The Naameh landfill opened in 1997 and was meant to be a temporary dump, but an alternative site was never opened.

For 20 years, the waste generated in Beirut and Mount Lebanon -- the country's most populous areas -- was dumped in Naameh.

Furious residents forced the closure of the site in July 2015, saying it was leading to high cancer rates, skin diseases and breathing problems.

Uncollected rubbish began piling up around Beirut and its suburbs, emitting a horrible stench that sparked protests in downtown Beirut demanding a long-term solution.

After months of political wrangling, Lebanon's cabinet announced a four-year plan to end the waste crisis -- and its first step was reopening Naameh for two months.

"When the dump reopened, my baby immediately started throwing up again," Fayyad says.

Fayyad and his Syrian wife, Riham, are both Druze, an offshoot of Islam.

Riham estimates that she spends about $1,000 (around 880 euros) per month on doctor's visits, inhalers, and other medication for her children.

Pointing to her bare finger, she says she had to sell her wedding ring to cover the costs.

"I wish my kids would eat food as much as they take medicine," she says.

Riham's family hails from Libeen, in Syria's southern Sweida province. That's where she will travel to next week, in the hope that the open plains there will be good for her children.


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