Naameh is a poverty stricken village in the South of Lebanon known for its sectarian tensions and its citizens’ active blockade of roads over the years to protest the lack of basic services such as electricity and water. The village is also the site of a landfill, where more than half the waste produced by the capital Beirut and the area of Mount Lebanon were thrown over the years.
The Naameh landfill was established in October 1997, after the Bourj Hammoud landfill was forcefully shut down. For lack of a planned alternative to the Bourj Hammoud landfill, the Naameh landfill was established at the site of an abandoned quarry as an emergency solution, a dumpsite for waste without any sort of treatment or financial compensation to residents.
Over the years, residents began noticing the environmental and health impacts of the landfill, claiming that they have started suffering from stomach aches, dizziness, vomiting, coughs, and allergies. Activist Ajwad Ayach emphasizes that cancer became a leading cause of death in the entire region, as shown in this video shot by activists, ironically entitled the "Landfill of Death". Residents proclaim in the video that the rich have left, but the poor have nowhere to go and are left behind to die. However, the sad fact remains that no scientific studies or assessments exist on the health effects of landfills and management of solid waste in Lebanon. This makes it quite easy to deny any health consequences of landfills, which is exactly what Sukleen, the company responsible for waste collection and disposal, did in response to the video shot by the activists.
Notably, Averda, the mother company of sub-firms Sukomi and Sukleen, has monopolized garbage collection, disposal, and treatment for Beirut and Mount Lebanon since 1994. Averda charges one of the highest rates in the world for its services: $ 142 per ton of garbage. The contract with Averda is an explicit theft of Lebanese citizens’ money that is legitimized by the political elite, especially since the company has potential suspicious ties with leading politicians and was awarded the contract with minimal competitive bidding. In addition, as part of an official 2008 decision to give residents $ 6 for every ton of garbage sent to the landfill, by 2014 Sukleen owed Naameh and nearby municipalities nearly $30 million in compensation . Although the contract between the Council for Development and Reconstruction (CDR) and Sukleen was supposed to expire by 17 January, 2011, it was automatically renewed until 17th of January, 2015, with fraud reported in the renewal of the contract .
In response to the unbearable living conditions near the landfill, the Naameh Landfill Closure Campaign was established in 2013 by activists from the region who were demanding the immediate closure of the landfill. Members of the campaign visited Walid Jumblatt, the sectarian leader of the Chouf district, on 12 December, 2013, demanding the closure of the landfill by January 17, 2014, after which they will block the road leading to it. The campaign contacted the head of the Lebanese Eco Movement (LEM), Paul Abi Rached, and asked for support in closing the landfill after no action was taken by Jumblatt.
On 17 January, 2014, the activists from the Naameh Landfill Closure Campaign and the LEM took to the streets and blocked the entrance to the landfill, preventing garbage trucks from passing through. Garbage piled up on the streets of the capital the next day, as Sukleen was forced to suspend its trash collection activities. Uncollected waste blocked sidewalks and overflew into streets, finally giving the story the media attention it deserves, and also making Beirutis aware of where their waste is actually dumped. Two days after the blockade, on 19 January, 2014, activists were asked to meet with Prime Minister Tammam Salam, after which they decided to reopen the road for 48 hours to give the government time to find a solution. The 48 hours passed without any practical steps taken, and with more waste brought into the landfill. After another hopeless meeting on January 21, 2014, with the president of the CDR and interior Minister at the time, where they were asked to keep the road open, it became terribly clear to activists that the government had not planned an alternative solution, and they occupied the road to the landfill once again.
Of course, the Lebanese political leaders are rather adept at postponing decisions, from postponing Cabinet meetings and elections due to political tensions, to postponing voting on critical issues. It came as no surprise, therefore, that governmental bodies kept postponing finding alternatives for the Naameh Landfill, or that Walid Jumblatt urged protestors “to immediately reopen the road because the country is not in need of more trouble especially that major political and security developments are taking place.”  After three more days of the sit-in in front of the entrance to the landfill, on 24 January, 2014, around 300 members of the Interior Security Forces stormed the sit-in and forcefully dragged the protestors outside their tents, and destroyed their tents. Meanwhile, activist Ajwad Ayach was detained under charges of provoking the protestors. He was released 5 hours later due to popular pressure and news coverage, but the road to the landfill was forcefully kept open and garbage trucks started passing through, with a promise from the government that the landfill with be shut down indefinitely on 17 January, 2015, and that an emergency plan to deal with the crisis of waste management will be put forth. Notably, this was also the date when the contract with Sukleen was due to end.
However, when the deadline arrived, it was extended twice for 3 months each time, until 17 July, 2015, paying the municipalities $35 million as compensation. Activists kept the pressure up during this time, and protested on the 17th of every month until the deadline arrived. On the 17th of July, 2015, activists and citizens from neighboring villages took to the streets and blocked the entrance to the landfill yet again, this time with anger at peak levels, vowing that garbage trucks would only pass through over their dead bodies. The sit in went on for a month after which the landfill was finally considered shut down.
However, an emergency plan did not materialize and trash collection simply halted. Garbage piled up on the streets of Beirut and Mount Lebanon, giving rise to mass protests in Beirut against the entire political elite, after the garbage crisis made it thoroughly clear that the waste on the streets was part of a bigger systemic problem. On March 18, 2016, Naameh landfill was forcefully reopened yet again for two months only, as part of the four-year governmental plan to manage the waste crisis. This time residents gave in, feeling that nothing could be done anymore. The garbage that had accumulated on the streets and in warehouses were transported there, this time with Internal Security Forces and Lebanese Army vehicles escorting the trucks.
After 18 years of operation and 12 million tons of trash reaching 20 meters in height, Naameh Landfill was finally shut down. However, with garbage piling up and with no other environmentally friendly solution in sight, Lebanon is in the midst of a serious waste crisis. The fight goes on, as civil society activists and academics are still struggling to force the government to implement an integrated waste management plan for Lebanon.
*Data was greatly reliant on information given by two activists from the campaign, Ajwad Ayash and Fouad Yehya