For much of this afternoon, a luxury residential apartment building was transformed into a pollution spewing factory fit for a Charles Dickens novel.
It created a cloud of chemical burning smoke for over two hours that drifted through an otherwise picturesque verdant valley in the Metn area, above Beirut:
Though barely visible in the photo, the smoke chocked the atmosphere for miles with foul smelling fumes of burned diesel fuel and oil. Clearly the problem was the building’s faulty, unmaintained generator and area residents said this wasn’t the first time; black plumes have been a regular site above this luxury complex for months. It is called “Parc Resdential” and is one of the largest developments in the Mtaileb area. Apartments sell for 100s of thousands of dollars:
What to do? In a lapse of sadism, I decided to call Lebanon’s Civil Defense hotline “125”. The operator suggests I call the municipality. But strangely, Mtaileb, which contains dozens of $1 million plus villas and apartments, has no municipality to hold residents accountable.
125 Operator: “That’s impossible, every neighborhood belongs to a municipality.”
Me: “Do you have their number, then?”
Operator: “No, call directory assistance, 1515”
So I call them.
Me: “Do you have the number for the Mtaileb municipality?”
1515: “We don’t show a municipality for Mtaileb, what’s the closet town?
The operator gives me the number of Rabiya municipality. I call them:
Rabiya Muncipality: “There is no municipality for Mtaileb.”
Me: “How could that be?”
Municipality: “Haha, it’s weird eh?
Me: “Who do I call?”
Municipality: “Try 125 again, tell them that.”
I re-dial 125.
Me: “There is no municipality, I am sure.”
125: “Thats impossible. They must be attached to Rabiya then–“
Me: “No I called Rabiya, they say they have nothing to do with Mtaileb.”
125: “Call the police then.”
Me: “Which number should I call?”
Me: “Isn’t that the number of Pizza Hut?”
125: (calling out to his office mates) “Is 1212 Pizza Hut? (inaudible response)
Ah yes, that’s right. The police is 112.”
I call them.
112: “Whats the problem?”
Me: “How do I report a building spewing smoke?”
112: “We will have someone call you back; is this your number?
5 minutes later
Police: “What’s the problem?”
Me: “Building spewing smoke for 2 hours now.”
Police: “Call the fire department.”
Me: “It’s coming from the building’s generator exhaust. The building is not on fire!”
Police: “Oh. … Well in that case you need to file a police report here at the station in Antelias (20 kilometers away) and then file a lawsuit at the courts in Baabda (1 hour away).
Me: “I thought you call the police when there is a problem and then you come check it out ?”
Police: “Haha, well that’s not the way it works in these cases. Good luck to you!”
Conclusion: Why does pollution continue in Lebanon? Because no one can report it.
Only a lawsuit can be brought and the burden is on the citizen to pay court and attorney fees in a process that could stretch over years, if it ever gets started at all.
On a totally unrelated note, how did Pizza Hut acquire a delivery hotline number that is only one digit different from the emergency police line—so similar that even pizza-starved emergency operators get confused?