Lebanese ladies pick up brooms as dustmen flee war

  • World
  • Saturday, 29 Jul 2006

By Laila Bassam

BEIRUT (Reuters) - Picking up brooms and donning green overalls, dozens of women have taken to cleaning the streets of Beirut after Israeli air strikes scared off refuse collectors and left the capital strewn with festering rubbish. 

Around 2,000 refuse collectors and street-sweepers, most of Syrian or Asian origin, have fled Lebanon since the start of the war 18 days ago, paralysing Sukleen, the firm charged with keeping Beirut and Mount Lebanon clean. 

A Lebanese woman sits outside a center for displaced persons forced to flee the south Lebanon in Saida, July 28, 2006. (REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton)

With no one to empty skips and bins, bags of rubbish began piling up on street corners and litter was left to fester, prompting some women to volunteer to clean up their city. 

"If we don't do anything, those who do not get killed by Israeli missiles will get killed ... by germs and diseases," said Najwa Baroudi, a designer and artist who was helping clean a street in Beirut. 

Dressed in the bright green overalls of Sukleen refuse collectors, Baroudi was gathering up rubbish from the road and placing it in the skips which another woman was helping lift and dump into the churning gut of the garbage truck. 

Mona al-Hajj, a housewife who was helping sweep bustling Hamra Street, said Sukleen was trying to find new employees but that something had to be done before the flies and cockroaches infested Lebanese homes. 

"Piles of rubbish are mounting up outside our homes so what are we waiting for?" she asked. "Beirut municipality, students, charities, housewives, doctors, engineers and employees are all taking part." 


Lebanese are not known for their ecological awareness and tend to look down on refuse collection as a job for poor migrant workers, not themselves. Sukleen is finding it hard to recruit new rubbish collectors to replace those who fled. 

Sukleen director Antoine Qurban said about 50 of the company's office staff had taken to the streets last week to pick up rubbish in a symbolic gesture. 

"Of course they were unable to fill the place of 2,000 workers but they were making a point to the Lebanese that this is a respectable thing to do," Qurban said. 

"This job is not shameful because these are our streets and our neighbourhoods, we made them dirty and it is our responsibility to keep them clean." 

Bassem al-Turk, head of the volunteer section at Sukleen, said people were keen to help out and many were bringing their children along to join in. 

The American University of Beirut sent an email to students calling for volunteers to help keep the neighbourhood clean. 

Wadad al-Hoss, volunteering with her father, former Lebanese Prime Minister Salim al-Hoss, said the campaign began when the rubbish began to pile up and it was clear there was no one to collect it. 

"When we started out, we were only five women and two men but now there are teams in every neighbourhood," she said. 

"This is a service to the nation and to citizens. It is not shameful; we are cleaning our streets as we clean our homes." 

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