"Sidon's mountain" bears no resemblance to the green mountains of Lebanon. It is rather an immense landfill that dumps its trash into the Mediterranean, polluting the coast of the ancient Phoenician port city.
The dump is just a few metres (yards) away from the tourist sites of the southern city of Sidon -- its crusader sea castle, ancient vaulted souk and Phoenician temple.
AdvertisementThe 30-year-old "mountain of filth" has steadily grown over the years, reaching today the height of a four-storey building and a volume of about 600,000 cubic metres (21 million cubic feet).
"It's revolting. How can one mar his own country this way?" complained Mahmoud, a local restaurant owner.
Earlier this month, a combination of strong winds and an earthquake with a magnitude of 5.0 on the Richter scale that hit Lebanon sent about 150 tonnes of rubbish blowing into the the sea.
"Tonnes of rubbish cover the coral reefs and it is driving the fish and turtles away," said Mohammed Sarji, an environmental campaigner and president of the Lebanese Professional Divers syndicate.
"Sometimes we find them dead having suffocated on plastic bags."
According to Sidon mayor Abdel Rahman al-Bizri, toxic waste from the dump is taking its toll on sea life.
"Sea life within a radius of 500 metres (yards) has vanished due to the toxic substances from the rubbish," said Bizri.
-- 'We don't catch anything except garbage bags' --
This is a real catastrophe for this picturesque port of 250,000 inhabitants whose very name is said to mean fishing and where many depend on the sea for their livelihood, including 400 fishing families.
"We don't catch anything anymore except for garbage bags," complained Deeb Kaeen who heads Sidon's fishing syndicate.
"And when a bag gets stuck in the propellers of the boat, it is an added catastrophe for us, compounded with the price of fuel," he said.
The garbage does not only include domestic rubbish, but also chemical and industrial waste, as well as animal carcasses, which emit methane gas -- a substance that causes the greenhouse effect -- releasing a nauseating odour.
"Illnesses such as asthma, pulmonary infections and problems with the nervous system are among the consequences of the dump's stench," said Wehbe Shouhaib, director of the Hospital of the South.
Who is to blame? Bizri, who supports the Hezbollah-led opposition, said he proposed several solutions but they were "all rejected by the government" because of the deep political crisis gripping Lebanon.
The country has been without a president since November because of the long-running feud between the Western-backed ruling coalition and the opposition supported by Iran and Syria that has caused political paralysis.
"We suggested moving the dump to an abandoned quarry in a nearby village where we could sort the trash to dispose of the toxic waste and recycle that which can be recycled," Bizri said.
Billionaire Saudi Prince Al-Walid bin Talal has offered five million dollars to carry out the project, but the village refused to take in the rubbish.
"The ministry of the environment has not given its approval," said Bizri. "The government doesn't want us to provide the solution. It does not suit them."
An environment ministry spokesman told AFP that it was "not concerned" by the issue, saying it fell under the jurisdiction of the municipality.
"No village will ever agree to receive toxic waste," said green campaigner Sarji, who has proposed transforming the dump into a public garden.
But he conceded that the project has little chance of being realised in a country like Lebanon as it grapples with its worst political crisis since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.