Power barge traps Lebanese in pollution and electricity dilemma

Some welcomed the new power barge addition in Lebanon, while others scorned at it due to the added pollution in the environment.

A new power barge, named Esra Sultan, was docked in Zouk Mikhael besides the “sister vessel the Fatmagul Sultan”. © Sumbebekos

It is only in the last month that Kesrouan (north of Beirut) started having access to electricity all round the clock ever since Lebanon saw the end of its Civil War. This was possible only thanks to the “temporary” power barge which was brought to provide power supply mainly in these areas. But this “temporary” solution has a dark side called pollution.

A new power barge, named Esra Sultan, was docked in Zouk Mikhael besides the “sister vessel the Fatmagul Sultan”. The power barge generate thick black smoke which often blankets the surrounding area in fine dust and the residents seem to be used to of this pollution burden. Kaboushi, a senior resident of Kesrouan, said: “The pollution is here anyway. I personally prefer to get electricity and be polluted than to just be polluted”.

It is hard to say whether the residents despite the existing pollution thrown out into the environment by the old power plant or just by being used to of the same, seem to welcome the “prospect of 22 to 24 hours of electricity” daily which earlier was around eighteen hours a day for the new move “balanced out the added pollution”.

However, there were others who did not welcome the presence of the power barge and scorned at it. Likewise, Louis Youssef, a forty one years old electrical mechanic, was quoted saying: “If you get cancer, what good does the extra electricity do for you? They increase the electricity and shorten your life.”

According to Youssef, who lived in the area from his childhood, he has witnessed many people suffering and dying due to “cancer and respiratory diseases”, while other residents echoed his statement. Youssef thinks that the government needs to either decommission or upgrade the old plant, whereby putting an end to the “barge project”. The health hazards caused by the Zouk plant led to protests and the news reports covered the subject extensively while researchers studied the issue for decades. However, official figures of the “cancer or respiratory illness” affecting the residents are “hard to come by”.

While, Youssef added: “You want to know the solution to this whole electricity crisis? Get all the zaims [political leaders] on that barge and send it away”. Talking about the Esra Sultan, the second barge, Umm George, a fifty two years old resident, stated: “If the electricity remains like this, of course we want them to keep it here”.

The added sweet spot for the presence of second barge along with the 24 hours electricity access is that the barge comes at a free of cost. On the other hand, the owner of a generator-farm, Said Jabbour, welcomed the second barge even though his profits are likely to “take a hit”. He said: “When they supply 24/7 electricity permanently, I’ll sell off the generators and open up a new business. It’s in the interest of the people.”

Nevertheless, there were others like Umm Elias Mattar, a seventy six years old resident, who does not accept the choice “between pollution and electricity on the one hand, or no pollution and no electricity on the other”. Mattar’s house is situated only a few hundred meters from the electricity plant compound, wherein she spent nearly the past sixty years of her life. As result, she lost “five cousins to cancer and respiratory illness”. Therefore, she is afraid that the new barge addition is going to “only exacerbate the trend”. She added:
“I lost my kids because of these plants – not because they died, but because they live abroad with clean air. What would bring them here? Does it have to stay this way? I curse the electricity company and at the same time I thank God that we have what we have”.