“My father was a fisherman like me, but he had better days,” Idriss, in his sixties, told L’Orient-Le Jour. Like other local residents, Idriss moved to Ghobeiri from Karantina when the Civil War (1975-1990) broke out.
The charming little holiday cottages on the beach, known as Jnah-Saint-Simon, were replaced with fragile concrete housing units hastily built for displaced families that arrived in Sultan Ibrahim.
“Our houses are linked to the sea as if by an umbilical cord,” said Idriss.
Idriss, like many other fishermen, believe that there is no question of giving up their vocation, although living and working conditions have become very difficult due to the economic crisis and water pollution.
Sewage outlets relocated... but still untreated
Not long ago, these sewage outlets emptied into the coast of Ramlet al-Baida beach, a little further north in the middle of the capital.
In 2019, a man named Mohammad Ghaddar planned to build a seaside resort next to the controversial Lancaster Eden Bay hotel, where he owned a plot of land.
Following a court ruling, Ghaddar succeeded in having the sewage outlet transferred to the modest fishing point of Sultan Ibrahim.
“After filing a lawsuit against the Beirut municipality, demanding the payment of $10,000 in fine per day in compensation for the losses incurred due to pollution caused by the sewage outlets on his land, Mohammad Ghaddar agreed with the mohafez of Beirut — the executive branch within the capital’s municipality is entrusted to the mohafez — to bear the costs of the transfer himself,” environmental activist Mohammad Ayoub told L’Orient-Le Jour.
“Mr. Ghaddar then arranged to share these costs with Wissam Achour, owner of the Lancaster Eden Bay, which was also affected by the arrival of the sewage,” Ayoub added.
Speaking to L’Orient-Le Jour, Marwan Abboud, who was appointed Beirut mohafez in 2020, refused to comment on the case, claiming that the decision was a matter for the judicial authorities.
Achour, for his part, did not respond to L’Orient-Le Jour’s request for comment Lancaster Eden Bay hotel’s managers also declined to comment.
Mohammad Ayoub, director of NAHNOO, a platform for participatory public policy-making, pointed at the authorities’ corruption and recalled that the construction of Eden Bay, like Mr. Ghaddar’s future project, constituted a “violation of the law on public maritime domain.”
Since 1925, permanent construction on the public maritime domain has been prohibited by decree.
The effects of double pollution
The transfer of sewage from Eden Bay to Sultan Ibrahim was not accompanied by an environmental impact assessment approved by the Environment Ministry, as is supposed to be the case for any project of this scale, said Ayoub.
On March 20, some 150 fishermen from Sultan Ibrahim protested, demanding compensation for the impact of wastewater on their work and health.
“Since sewage outlets were relocated, fishermen have been suffering from skin infections and diseases,” said Idriss. “Our low income is not enough for us to get treated, and we have no medical coverage,” he added.
Jina Talj, executive director of Diaries of the Ocean, said “There are two types of pollution from sewage: bacteriological and chemical.”
“The organic matter causes a lack of oxygen in the water and the multiplication of certain algae that colonize the marine environment and kill all other forms of life. On the other hand, bacteria carried by wastewater cause disease and infection. The effect of this pollution on marine fauna is very significant right where the wastewater is discharged, but is drastically reduced as soon as you move away from it,” she added.
“Chemicals discharged into wastewater are far more dangerous than organic matter. They come, among other things, from household products used in the home and disposed of down the drain. That is not to mention the factories connected to these sewer systems, whose hazardous waste is not treated. These substances are all the more problematic because they are neither visible nor detectable by smell. Whereas bacteriological pollution generally causes benign illnesses such as stomach upsets or diarrhea, chemicals accumulate in the body and their consequences can be disastrous,” she said.
Fewer and fewer fish
Idriss experiences the impact of this pollution on a daily basis. “There are fewer and fewer fish,” he said.
The fisherman, who has lived in Sultan Ibrahim for over 50 years, said that when the coast was filled in for the installation of sewers, many rocks that were essential to the ecosystem and to fish life, were destroyed.
“We can no longer fish all the time,” he said.
On the rare days when the water is not completely murky, the older members get out their fishing rods and nets, while the younger ones don masks and wetsuits to set up iron cages at the bottom of the water, filled with green algae gleaned from the few remaining rocks, to bait the fish. If the catch is good, the men set up tables by the roadside, creating an improvised “fish souk” to sell their wares to passers-by.
“The solution to our problem is simple. We just need to install wastewater plants designed to treat the wastewater before it flows into the sea,” said Idriss.
Launched nearly 30 years ago, the project to create two sewage lift stations and treatment plants in Sultan Ibrahim and Burj Hammoud has never seen the light, recalled Ayoub.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.