“Either the contracts are extended or you will drown in garbage.”
According to Lebanon’s Al Akhbar newspaper, these were the words of former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in October of 2010, when he warned a cabinet session of the repercussions of failing to renew the contract of private waste management company Sukleen, run by Hariri family friends.
Since the 1990s, Sukleen has been responsible for waste disposal in Beirut and the Mount Lebanon governorate.
Now, less than five years after Hariri’s prophecy, the drowning has come to pass; over the last week, the streets of the Lebanese capital have been inundated by heaps of festering garbage.
But the mess has to do with a lot more than contract extensions.
On 17 July, Sukleen’s latest extension expired in tandem with the closure of the Naameh landfill south of Beirut, which has since 1997 absorbed much of Lebanon’s refuse.
Meant to operate for only six years, the landfill was also on the receiving end of its own fair share of extensions, thanks to which it is now at 500 percent capacity.
In an effort to mitigate their own engulfment in garbage, residents of the area have blocked roads to ensure no further Sukleen deliveries to Naameh. Which brings us to the question: why, if the domestic calendar has been marked for quite some time with the impending closure of the landfill, has the government not managed to devise an alternative arrangement?