SIDON, Lebanon: Trash was left piled on the streets of some of Sidon’s poorest neighborhoods Sunday, spoiling some residents’ Eid al-Adha celebrations. The holiday pileup was the result of a strike at a waste sorting plant earlier this week by employees protesting the state’s failure to pay their wages for over a year.
“Wherever you walk, you bump into trash,” a resident named Umm Mohammad told The Daily Star as she walked through the city holding her children by the hand. The waste, she said, had ruined the joy of Eid.
“Who will hold those responsible to account?”
As the garbage accumulated over the past week, residents complained that it attracted rats, mosquitos and other insects. As temperatures climbed to more than 30 degrees celsius, the trash unleashed putrid a stench that wafted through the streets.
But more than just punishing those responsible, officials are divided over something more basic: Who is to blame?
The strike was caused when about 450 workers took action after not receiving their wages for more than a year, because the state was 13 months late in dispensing money to the plant for treating the waste of the Sidon Municipality, and 12 other municipalities in the Sidon and Zahrani Municipal Union.
The state is also two years behind in paying for the treatment of waste in Jezzine.
The workers in Sidon gathered outside the plant to prevent waste carrying trucks from entering. Their protest was spearheaded by the plant’s administration, which Friday called the state’s failure to pay an act of neglect.
Sidon Mayor Mohammad al-Saudi sees things differently. He told The Daily Star that he felt staff taking action just before the Eid al-Adha holiday, when the plant would be unlikely to receive the necessary money, was “irresponsible.”
At the same time, he promised the workers that he would secure their unpaid wages within two weeks.
On Saturday, the waste sorting plant briefly went back into operation, clearing trash from the city’s main thoroughfares.
A source familiar with the issue told The Daily Star that the company had been able to secure a loan to provide employees at the plant with a portion of their wages, and therefore asked them to return to work on Saturday.
But on Sunday, the plant was closed again for the holiday, though the source said the waste cleanup should continue Monday.
Until then, the trash crisis, and who is to blame for it and how it can be averted in the long term, continues to take its toll on locals.
On Sunday morning, young boys picked up their plastic guns to shoot at the rats and other creatures crawling over the garbage.
A girl who was playing on the swings near her house said that when she swung upward, she could see piles of waste, describing the scene as a "terrible environmental panorama.”
This article was amended on Tuesday, August 13 2019
A previous version of this story erroneously said that a source had told The Daily Star that Sidon's mayor had obtained the money to pay part of the employees' salaries. It was the plant's administration that obtained the money, according to the source. The Daily Star regrets the error.