As New Yorkers we can empathize with Beirut. Think about how smelly it can get in early August when it's trash day and garbage bags are piling up on the city streets. Pretty gross right? Now imagine the entirety of 5th avenue was awash with trash piled 4 stories high. Now multiply that x100. That's the magnitude of the trash crisis currently overwhelming Lebanon's (usually) cosmopolitan capital city.
A river of stinking garbage bags now weave their way through the suburbs of Beirut, in what is a surreal embodiment of both Lebanon's political system and a reminder of the shocking amounts of waste that we produce.
This overflowing landfill, which stretches for hundreds of meters through Jdeideh in the city's suburbs, is so large that it can be seen from thousands of feet in the air. The trash river is the consequence of the city's months-long garbage crisis -- both a symbol and a byproduct of the country's dysfunctional politics. It is also a stark reminder of the environmental damage that we are doing because, as many have pointed out, this trash has often ended up in poorly managed landfills, and worse, the sparkling Mediterranean Sea that gives Beirut it's incredible charm.
"This used to be such a beautiful place, but look at it now. We can't even walk by it," Jawanah, a local resident who didn't want to give the rest of her name, told CNN.
The initial problems began when city officials closed the main landfill site for sanitary reasons last summer as it was well past its max capacity. Around the same time, the city's contract with the waste management company ended and was not renewed. With nowhere to store it and no one to pick it up, anger grew and violent protests erupted forcing the deployment of the army.
The problems though are just beginning as locals are worried not just about the trash's unsightliness and smell but about the health threats posed by this toxic eyesore. Many fear that rains are flushing harmful toxins into the water or that the chemicals are leaching into the ground making it unsafe. Meanwhile environmentalists and city activists are at a loss for where the trash will end up leaving many to speculate that an environmental disaster is imminent.
Perhaps if you were thinking about visiting Beirut for an exotic beach vacation, you might consider postponing a summer or two.