Friends with green benefits? Lebanese village dumps landfill for 'Forest of Friendship'

Published October 21st, 2012 - 09:11 GMT
Neglected landfills are a problem for many towns in the district of Bint Jbeil (Photo: Hassan Bahsoun)
Neglected landfills are a problem for many towns in the district of Bint Jbeil (Photo: Hassan Bahsoun)

One of the largest garbage dumps in the Bint Jbeil region has been transformed into a 10,000 square meter “Forest of Friendship,” named in commemoration of the joint initiative between the townspeople and United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) peacekeeping forces, particularly the Malaysian regiment operating in the area.

The townspeople said that many of them had suffered from various sicknesses, including severe allergies, because of the toxic emissions from the landfill. For 15 years, the landfill emanated toxic air and bad odors, and whenever garbage was burned in the landfill, the smoke would creep into the homes in the area.

The townspeople said that many of them had suffered from various sicknesses, including severe allergies, because of the toxic emissions from the landfill.

“We could not even sit outside the house to breathe clean air, and had to remain mostly indoors and close the windows, despite the heat,” said Youssef Karim, a local physician.

The transformation of the landfill into a park is considered a victory for the village of Safad al-Batikh, one of the smallest in the area, while many major townships had failed to address similar problems.

Village residents point proudly to the southern coastal city of Saida, whose infamous trash mountain only seems to grow as political factions trade accusations of mismanagement and corruption. An investigation by Al-Akhbar recently found that $20 million donated by the Saudi government to treat the Saida landfill disappeared under the government of former Prime Minister Saad Hariri. 

Safad al-Batikh sought a grant from UNIFIL, the international force deployed in South Lebanon, in cooperation with the command of the Malaysian regiment. The town received full support for the removal of the waste and the leveling of the land, where more than 1,000 medium sized trees were subsequently planted.

Mayor Souhad Zeinnedine said he and many of the townspeople hope that thousands more trees will be planted soon with support from the agriculture ministry.

Zeinnedine said the town “had long suffered from the hazards and damages caused by the landfill,” particularly as the town struggled to keep up with a population boom following the dramatic urbanization of the area.

“The Malaysian regiment responded quickly to our proposal, and secured $25,000 from the UNIFIL command as a financial donation,” Zeinnedine went on to say. “This was enough to reclaim 10,000 square meters of the public landfill land, to which we built a wide road and then planted large trees.”

This is how the newly established green space came to be named the Forest of Friendship, to commemorate the cordial ties between UNIFIL and Safad al-Batikh, according to the town’s mayor.

The town held a ceremony to mark the opening of the new forest, which was attended by Malaysian Lt. Com. Badrul Hisham Bin Mohammed, and the deputy chief of UNIFIL’s Civil Affairs Achit Tsagaandorj, as well as many townspeople and visitors.

Efforts to improve waste management in some towns by building waste sorting plants did not succeed in eliminating pollution. The gatherers toured the Forest of Friendship, and then the municipality then held a luncheon for the attendees, and awarded shields of appreciation and gratitude to Lt. Com Bin Mohammed and Tsagaandorj.

Lt. Com Bin Mohammed said he was honored to have been part of this achievement, urging for these trees to be taken care of given their benefits for the environment and people.

The municipality of Safad al-Batikh had also recently finished planting trees along the town’s streets, and turned several public lands to small parks.

Neglected or improperly maintained landfills are a problem for many towns in the district of Bint Jbeil. It seems that efforts to improve waste management in some towns by building waste sorting plants did not succeed in eliminating pollution.

In fact, all recently established waste plants in the area can only sort waste, and collect organic waste which is then burned, polluting the air with smoke and bad smells.

 

What do you think of the 'Forest of Friendship'? Should more towns in the district of Bint Jbeil follow suit and transform their landfills? Leave us your comments below!


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