SPECIAL REPORT: In a move being applauded by environmentalists around the world, the Syrian government has introduced a new wheelie-bin system that will allow households to easily dispose of the chemical weapons they have been hoarding.
Every Thursday morning, as the sun rises over the troubled capital city of Damascus, the sound of electronic beeping can be heard above the guns and mortars as disposal teams ride their chemical weapon trucks from house to house. The team members, dressed head to toe in Hazmat suits, hang off the backs and sides of their vehicles in a playful fashion, exchanging japes with one another as they swiftly empty each of the orange bins into the back of their truck.
It has been hailed as a step in the right direction by the UN but the scheme has not been without its teething problems. “We woke up this morning to find that they’d spilled some of the chemicals on the pavement and so now all the neighbourhood dogs are dead!” explains local resident Amir Ahmed. “It’s still a good idea, though. I was just putting my weapons in the bin before. The government sent out a leaflet specifying what gets collected on which days and I’ve stuck to my fridge.”
Ishtar Khoury, from the Bab Touma area, agrees there is still a lot of room for improvement: “Last week they just completely forgot to pick up the bin and it’s almost ready to burst now. It’s a bit of a pain, especially since the kids have been at home ever since their school was blown up.”
It seems that it will take time for the new scheme to sink in with all of Damascus’s population. “My wife gets so annoyed at me!” says embattled Syrian president Bashar Al-Assad as we don gas masks for a stroll around his garden. “She says ‘Bashar! How many times do I have to tell you? Tuesday is general waste, Wednesday is recycling, Thursday is chemical weapons. You killed the bin collectors again, you stupid banana!’ I just can’t get it right.”
Clearly the beleaguered president’s personal problems are hindering his switch-over to the new regime. “In my defence, it is difficult to remember all this while still carrying out a vicious civil war. I think she forgets that I’m doing that sometimes. And now I’m doing it without chemical weapons, which only makes things harder. Not much though.”
“And I still don’t know what to do about tin foil. Is that even recyclable?”