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Birds circling trash threaten Beirut flights: minister

© AFP/File | Local media reported that on January 10, 2017, a plane belonging to national carrier Middle East Airlines encountered a large flock of birds as it landed at the Beirut airport, seen in March 2016

BEIRUT (AFP) - 

Flights in and out of Lebanon's Beirut airport are at risk because of the large number of birds flying over a nearby garbage dump, the country's transport minister said Wednesday.

"Today we face an emergency... we recognise that there is a danger posed to civil aviation movement by the birds," Yusef Fenianos said after a meeting with Prime Minister Saad Hariri.

"The presence of the Costa Brava dump has contributed to the increasing number of birds," the minister said, according to a statement released by Hariri's office after the meeting.

The Costa Brava dump was created in March 2016, as one of three "temporary" dumps intended to provide an interim solution to the closure of the main landfill receiving waste from Beirut.

Under a government plan intended to end the crisis caused by the landfill's closure, the dumps were eventually intended to have waste processing facilities, but that has not happened.

As a result, garbage has piled up in Costa Brava, on the coastline close to the runways at Beirut's international airport, reaching nine metres in some places and wafting foul odours nearby.

Environmentalists have for months warned that the dump is attracting rodents and increasing numbers of birds, posing potential risk for aviation.

In August, the Lebanese pilots' union warned of the possibility of the birds being sucked into airplane engines.

"Thank God, up until now, the flights have not encountered any real danger," said Fenianos, who is also minister of public works.

He said the problem was being tackled by an increase in the number of devices installed around the airport emitting bird of prey calls in order to scare away the nuisance birds.

But the activist movement "You Stink", launched to protest government inaction during the height of the garbage crisis, mocked the measures.

"What are you waiting for to close Costa Brava... for a plane to crash or an international decision to shut the airport," they wrote on Facebook.

"The solution is not to scare the birds away," they said, urging the dump be closed.

Local media reported that on Tuesday a plane belonging to national carrier Middle East Airlines encountered a large flock of birds as it landed on the airport's west runway, prompting concern.

A permanent solution for the waste produced by Beirut and its surroundings has yet to be found, months after the Naameh landfill was shuttered and garbage began piling up on the capital's streets.

The issue is one of many outstanding challenges that remain to be resolved by Lebanon's new government, formed on December 18 after some two years of political paralysis.

© 2017 AFP