Nadine Elali

In Sidon, something smells bad

Sidon's landfill is causing a city-wide and pungent gas-like odor.


In the Industrial City area of Sidon, a pungent gas-like odor is fueling residents’ and workers’ complaints. They believe that the stench is coming from the recent treatment and removal of Sidon's long-standing landfill which has become a serious problem and the subject of intense debate between the city’s rival political factions. 


36 year old Ahmad, who preferred not to give his real name, is a mechanic at the Industrial City and has lived near the waste-fill for most of his life. Almost one month ago, he moved out of his house and chose a location farther from the coast to protect his two young daughters from polluted air, which has been getting increasingly worse over the past two months.


“We don’t know the reasons behind the strong stench. We don’t know if it is dangerous to our health or not. But I felt the need to take my own precautions and moved out of the area. Many like me are following suit, but there are also many others who are financially incapable and are suffering extremely,” Ahmad said.


Over the weekend, the streets were empty in Sidon. Ahmad explains that much of the city’s residents fled to nearby villages such as Bkessine and Jezzine in order to avoid the odor and get some fresh air. He notes that after losing hope in government officials to address the odor and its underlying causes, more citizens have increasingly left the Industrial City area in Sidon.


A widely viewed video released by a local news website, sidontv.tv, attributed the odor to air pollution resulting from the dumping of waste into the sea. Activists affiliated with the Nasserite Popular Organization accuse the contractors of throwing huge amounts of garbage into the sea without properly treating the waste; thereby failing to abide by various environmental standards of proper waste management.


Sidon's head of municipality, Mohammad Saoudi, did not deny dumping waste into the sea. In an interview with NOW, he explains that it was a necessity undertaken to extinguish the fire hazard that the garbage fill posed.


On May 30, a huge fire erupted at Sidon's garbage dump, causing black smoke to fill the city. According to a news report, The Civil Defense was struggling to extinguish the fire. “We needed to reach the fire to extinguish it. We tried helicopters and boats but it would not work, and so we were compelled to open roads around the mountain to make way for civil defense fire trucks,” said Saoudi.


Sidon's garbage dump is located near the sea and has grown steadily over the past 40 years, and it now poses a threat to the health and safety of city residents. Last October, an agreement was signed between the Ministry of Environment and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) to turn the garbage mountain into a green park.


“The problem was that there was no place to transfer the dump. There was the option to transfer it to a nearby village, but residents objected to it. The alternative was to treat the garbage and dump the soil in the sea to create a 550 km squared area. We have constructed a ‘break water,’ 2.2 km [in length], which will constitute the boundary for it,” said Saoudi.


“We are at the third phase of the project now. The break water is [being] finished and the soil and garbage are being sorted. Close to 80 percent of it is now complete, and there are parties who are not happy to see that happen,” notes Saoudi.


Without much elaboration, Saoudi told NOW that the video serves the political motives of parties hoping to benefit from the issue, and who have been exerting effort to slow the project down. “The same party that released the video is affiliated with groups who sell the soil needed to keep the mountain standing, [as well as] those collecting the recyclable material needed for the proper treatment.”


The Municipal Solid Waste Treatment Center, referred to as IBC (International Business Consultants), is the plant managing Sidon's waste. The group developed a treatment system for the management of household municipal solid waste which separates waste into organic and non-organic components. It then treats the organic component to produce organic fertilizers and methane gas which is used in co-generating electric power to run the IBC plant. 


An official source at IBC told NOW that the odor is a result of problems when treating the waste. “The actual composition of the waste being received is not [ideal] for the proper function of the system,” he says. “Scavengers over the course of years have been collecting and selling recyclable material needed to maintain a certain balance that insures the proper function of the plant.”


The IBC source added, “For example, assume the ratio needed for the process is 30 percent recyclables, 60 percent organic, and the remaining 10 percent inert. We are only receiving 10 percent (if not less) recyclable material.” He told NOW that, accordingly, the plant was compelled to make certain adjustments which resulted in the release of odors. Asked whether the odor would have health ramifications on residents, the source said it is “hard to tell.” However, he also believes it shouldn’t have an impact on residents’ health, stressing that IBC is working hard to resolve the issue. 


Meanwhile, the Sidon landfill has become the subject of intense debate between political factions in the city, and it is now a major campaign issue between the two main political parties in town: Hariri’s Future Movement and the Popular Nasserist Organization. During the 2010 municipal elections, the Future Movement competed against Hezbollah’s ally, Osama Saad, winning first place and pledging to complete the project before its term ends.


Recently, both sides have exchanged accusations regarding the dump. Because municipality elections are expected in two years, Ahmad told NOW that he worries the people’s concerns will not be addressed in the meantime.


“The politicians are fighting over the dump to see who can make a better gain out of it. Hezbollah’s allies, mainly the Nasserites, accuse the contractors and the municipality of corruption and of throwing waste in the sea in order to minimize budget costs. [Meanwhile,] Future Movement supporters and the municipality are accusing the other side of being behind the fire because they sell the soil needed to maintain the dump,” argued Ahmad.


“Everything is politicized in this country, even the dump.” 

Saida's garbage mountain, an immense landfill that disposes its trash into the Mediterranean, polluting the coast of this ancient Lebanese city. (AFP Photo)

"Sidon's garbage dump is located near the sea and has grown steadily over the past 40 years, and it now poses a threat to the health and safety of city residents."

  • richard.kells.7

    they need to recycle the rubbish for power like sweden does http://localrubbishclearance.com

    March 15, 2014

  • richard.kells.7

    they incinerated the rubbish the same way that other countries like sweden do they wouldn't have this problem and they could generate power from it http://localrubbishclearance.com

    March 15, 2014

  • Metnman

    What a sad story. The people of Sidon should go on strike...either that or abandon that cursed town. What a nightmare. 40 years!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    August 4, 2013

  • Metnman

    "....and it now poses a threat to the health and safety of city residents"???????? So for the past 39 years it's been harmless?????

    August 4, 2013

  • Metnman

    And it's hardly news either

    August 4, 2013

  • Metnman

    "Residents complain that Saida’s landfill is resulting in a pungent gas-like odor." This is terrible English

    August 4, 2013