Lebanon's beaches, an environmental disaster in the making

A toxicology report put together by the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute found alarmingly high concentrations of chemical and bacterial contamination, including large levels of mercury, copper, lead, and cadmium.
by Georgi Azar and Zeina Nasser

8 July 2018 | 16:42

Source: by Annahar

In this Monday Jan. 22, 2018, photo, two tents sit in piles of garbage covering the shore days after an extended storm battered the Mediterranean country at the Zouq Mosbeh costal town north of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

BEIRUT: Witnessing tourists and locals alike flock to Beirut’s beaches in large swathes has become a thing of the past, for many reasons. 

The most obvious one is pollution and the ever-increasing bacteria levels in the water as a result of the country’s inability to properly manage its waste.

It’s sewage waste specifically, and one of its sources stands right next to the public beach in Ramlet El Bayda, a dismal complex of submarine pipes which pumps untreated waste directly into the sea.

A toxicology report put together by the Lebanese Agricultural Research Institute found alarmingly high concentrations of chemical and bacterial contamination, including large levels of mercury, copper, lead, and cadmium. 

This toxic combination of materials is incredibly harmful to humans and animals, experts warn. 

Several cases of psoriasis have been making the rounds across social media platforms, with beachgoers sharing glaring images of their infections due to water contamination. 

Psoriasis can be triggered by a number of underlying genetic factors, as well as environmental pollutants such as cadmium which increases the levels of inflammation markers and influences the immune system.

Dr. Michel Afram, President of the Board of Directors and Director General of LARI, told Annahar that such a catastrophe “cannot be overlooked,” with minimal international feedback received. 

“The report went largely unnoticed, both internationally and locally, ” he says, while calling on a quick and decisive action plan to put a lid on the disaster before irreparable damage is done. 

The study undertaken by the environmental body found similar trends in Tripoli, Jounieh, Sidon, and Sour.

The policy specialist was adamant in his belief that the solution lies in the state’s ability to establish “functional waste treatment plants,” before labeling the situation “as an environmental disaster.”

This photo shows a small boat at Beirut's sole public beach. (Annahar Photo/ Zeina Nasser)

Public beaches are bearing the brunt of this catastrophe while private beach resorts are able to shield themselves by positioning themselves in cleaner areas. 

With mounting inflation and unemployment, a large number of residents find themselves priced out and unable to afford the exorbitant entrance fees. 

“Do you really think we can afford to go to the cleaner beaches,” 28-year old Ismail Ghazzawi bemusingly asks while sunbathing along with his group of friends. 

Saeb Lahib, a Lebanese immigrant residing in Germany, lays out a simple dichotomy to Annahar, “high prices keep us out of private beaches, and pollution from public beaches.”

“It's a pity that Lebanon is not the same as it once was.”

Saeb Lahib speaking to Annahar at a public beach in Ramlet El Bayda (Annahar Photo/ Zeina Nasser)

The white beaches of days gone by that rivaled those of Tuscany are now strewn with garbage, riddled with trash and its waters spewing a deadly cocktail of toxic material. 

The Lebanese government’s inability to properly deal with the ongoing waste crisis which began in the summer of 2015 has led to the creation of random waste dumping sites across the country, and seaside landfills leaching directly into the water around Beirut. 

Last November, Lebanon was hit by a severe storm with swirling winds and heavy waves striking its coastline, which culminated in an enormous trash pile up on a patch of beach in Zouk, Keserwan.

Dr. Naji Kodeih, a toxicology expert, and contributor to the environmental platform greenarea.me, maintained that this can “only be described as a devastating reality for Lebanon when it comes to water pollution and mainly its beaches.” 

The consequences of unprocessed and untreated sewage being pumped in Lebanon’s waters are wide-ranging says Kodeih, due to the complex composition of Lebanon’s waste. 

“It includes residential, industrial, and medical waste,” he says.

This blatant disregard to the country’s sea will impact its ecosystem and different maritime species along with their habitats, “infecting animals and fish as toxins accumulate in their flesh which can later be transmitted to humans who consume them,” Kodeih warns.

“People should know that it's not safe for them swimming in the water,” he tells Annahar, while similarly calling for the implementation of wastewater treatment plants. 

The toxicology expert also notes that such plants have already been approved by the Council for Development and Reconstruction, which is tasked with implementing a comprehensive waste management plan, but have yet to be enacted. 

“Let them treat the water before throwing it into the sea.”

This photo shows the neglected Ramlet al Bayda beach. (Annahar Photo/ Zeina Nasser)

Despite the country’s waste crisis being well documented, the government’s known conspicuous impotence, and the mass protests in the summer of 2015, some beachgoers have yet to grasp the severity of the situation. 

“I love it here,” Fatima Abdelrahim, a mother of five children tells Annahar while her four-year daughter swims in the background. 

“The water is so beautiful to swim in,” the little child chirps. 

Battoul, the four-year-old girl after taking a dip in the water (Annahar Photo/ Zeina Nasser)

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