Flights coming in and out of Lebanon's Beirut airport could be at risk from birds flying over a nearby rubbish dump, the country's transport minister has said.
Youssef Fenianos told reporters on Wednesday that birds scavenging for food at the Costa Brava dump, one of three temporary landfill sites in the capital, posed a real "danger" to flights and the more than six million passengers that use the airport annually.
Environmentalists have warned for months that the Costa Brava dump, one of three sites created under a government plan to end the city's rubbish crisis, were attracting rodents and increasing numbers of birds.
As a result, waste 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.
"Today we face an emergency ... there is a danger posed to civil aviation movement by birds," Fenianos, who is also minister of public works, said.
"The presence of the Costa Brava dump has contributed to the increasing number of birds... Thank God, up until now, the flights have not encountered any real danger."
In August, the Lebanese pilots' union warned of the possibility of birds being sucked into aircraft engines.
On Tuesday, local media reported that a plane belonging to national carrier Middle East Airlines encountered a large flock of birds as it landed on the airport's west runway.
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Fenianos 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, the AFP news agency reported.
The activist movement "You Stink", which mobilised tens of thousands to protest against government inaction during the height of the rubbish 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.
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 rubbish 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.
Source: AFP news agency