Raed El Rafei / Lebannon Daily Star & Lin Noueihed / Reuters & Rana Fil / Boston Glob – 2006-07-29 23:28:09
War Sparks Environmental Crisis as Oil Leaks into Sea after Attack on Power Plant
Raed El Rafei / Daily Star
BEIRUT (July 27, 2006) — At least 10,000 tons of heavy fuel oil have been spilled into the Lebanese sea, causing an environmental catastrophe with severe effects on health, biodiversity and tourism, environmentalists and the Environment Ministry said Wednesday.
Two weeks ago, Israeli bombs targeted the Jiyye power station, located on the coast 30 kilometers south of Beirut. Part of the oil in storage tanks has been burning ever since and the other part is leaking into the Mediterranean.
“The pollution has affected around 70 to 80 kilometers of both public and private rocky and sandy beaches from Damour, south of Beirut, through to Chekka in the North,” Berge Hadjian, the Environment Ministry’s director general said Wednesday. Another 15,000 tons of oil are expected to leak into the sea, he added.
The ministry has issued a warning for all citizens to stay away from polluted sites along the coast. The ministry has started pilot cleanup operations with the help of private companies, and with financial and technical assistance from the Kuwaiti government. But a total cleanup of the oil spill remains too dangerous because of Israel’s ongoing military operations.
A complete oil-spill cleanup operation will cost tens of millions of dollars and will require a long period of time, according to the Environment Ministry’s Web site.
Short-term health effects of the oil spill include nausea, headaches and skin problems among residents living close to the affected areas and among beach-goers coming in contact with the oil, the ministry added.
The spill will affect tourism because many public and private beaches have been polluted and it will take a long time to clean them, the ministry said. The Ramlet al-Baida public beach, which normally attracts hundreds of people during this time of year, has been totally deserted. A thick layer of oil covers the coast at that spot.
“I saw many fish and crabs dead by the Ramlet al-Baida beach,” said Iffat Edriss, an environmental activist, describing the situation as a disaster for the marine ecosystem.
Oil Spill Adds Ecological Crisis to Lebanon’s Agony
Lin Noueihed / Reuters
BEIRUT (July 28, 2006) — Along Lebanon’s sandy beaches and rocky headlands runs a belt of black sludge, 10,000 to 30,000 tons of oil that spilled into the Mediterranean Sea after Israel bombed a power plant.
Lebanon’s Environment Ministry says the oil flooded into the sea when Israeli jets hit storage tanks at the Jiyyeh plant south of Beirut on July 13 and 15, creating an ecological crisis that Lebanon’s government has neither the money nor the expertise to deal with.
“We have never seen a spill like this in the history of Lebanon. It is a major catastrophe,” Environment Minister Yacoub al-Sarraf told Reuters.
“The equipment we have is for minor spills. We use it once in a blue moon to clean a small spill of 50 tons or so. To clean this whole thing up we would need an armada … The cost of a full clean-up could run as high as US$40-50 million.”
The spill is especially threatening since fish spawn and sea turtles nest on Lebanon’s coast, including the green turtle which is endangered in the Mediterranean, local ecologists say.
Carried by a north-easterly wind, the spill has traveled 70-80 km up the coast of Lebanon, which has been bombarded by Israel for 16 days in a war against Hizbollah.
An Israeli warship damaged by a Hizbollah missile on July 15 may also have spilled diesel oil into the sea, according to the Environment Ministry website (www.moe.gov.lb).
At Beirut’s Sporting Club, seven men in navy overalls perch on the edge of a man-made inlet skimming sludge, using buckets on the end of sticks and pouring it into plastic containers.
The ground around them is black, as are their forearms and clothes. The air is thick with acrid fumes that sting the eyes and irritate the throat.
The team is part of a pilot clean-up commissioned by the Environment Ministry. Another mop-up is underway at the San Antoine Sandy Beach Resort in northern Lebanon.
Marine Life Dead
“It arrived the day after they hit the Jiyyeh power plant. The worst has passed now. A couple of days ago the whole coastline was black,” said Walid Abu Nassar, surveying the damage to the Sporting Club, which he runs. “First they tried to pump it out but that didn’t work, now this. These are crude methods but Lebanon has no other way.”
Lebanon has turned to oil producer Kuwait for help. A plane load of equipment is due to arrive from Kuwait via Syria by the end of the week, Sarraf said. But one of the main problems is that an Israeli air and sea blockade in place since the war began on July 12 is hampering both the clean-up and the delivery of equipment.
“To really clean it up we need access to the sea, which we don’t have,” Sarraf said. “We need more equipment and mobilisation but for that we need the hostilities to end.”
The migratory season is over so birds should not be badly affected and some oil may evaporate or decompose, but spills can smother or poison sea life, the Environment Ministry says.
Even if Lebanon is able to mop up, the marine ecosystem could take years to recover, local environmentalists say. Commercial fishing and tourism has been at a standstill since the war began because of the air and sea blockade.
“July is hatching season for turtle eggs and baby turtles have to reach deep water as fast as possible to avoid predators. With the oil in their way, they will not survive,” Wael Hmaidan, a local environmental activist said. “The oil spill, part of which has settled on the sea floor, threatens blue fin tuna, which is an important but overfished commercial fish, as well as shark species.”
Fuel Oil and Fumes Spill from Power Plant Bombed by Israelis
Rana Fil / Boston Globe Correspondent
BEIRUT (July 28, 2006) — Israel’s bombing of a power plant on Beirut’s southern outskirts has spawned an environmental disaster, sending thousands of tons of heavy fuel oil into the Mediterranean and spreading dangerous fumes into the air, government officials say.
Israeli forces hit the Jiyye power plant two weeks ago, setting its storage fuel tanks ablaze and cutting electricity to many areas in the capital and south Lebanon. One of the tanks exploded and fell into the Mediterranean a week ago, and another one was still burning yesterday.
The officials say Lebanon does not have enough of the foam that is used to extinguish oil fires, as most of it has been used to put out the blaze at the Beirut airport and oil stations, which also have been hit in Israeli strikes.
Fears were rising about health problems from the spill and from air pollution.
“The dark cloud that you see over Beirut and the sea carries particulate matters that enter the respiratory system and cause different types of respiratory problems,” Berge Hadjian, director general of the Environment Ministry, said in an interview. “The most vulnerable are children, pregnant women, the elderly, and those who have respiratory diseases like asthma.”
The environmental damage elsewhere in the region was unclear. Hadjian said that depending on the winds, air pollution could reach Syria, Turkey, and Israel.
Samih Wehbe, an oil expert in the Environment Ministry, voiced more alarming worries. “It is a catastrophe; it is something unbelievable,” he said. “The pollution of the air could reach Europe.”
The tank spilled at least 10,000 tons of fuel oil into the sea. Hadjian said it was possible that winds could also carry the oil to Turkey and Syria.
In Lebanon, the spill has fouled public and private beaches from Jiyye in the south to Chekka in the north. According to the Ministry of Environment, 80 percent of the coast north of Jiyye has been contaminated. Along that coast, waves carry a black, thick layer of oil that sticks to rocks and sand.
While the beaches remain open, the government has warned people to stay away.
Gaby Khalaf, director of the National Center for Marine Sciences, said the sea needs one or two years to be “totally cleaned.”
“Today, I saw that certain species like the mollusk and the crustacean have perished,” Khalaf said. “They can’t breathe or eat anymore.”
Fisherman Issam Iskandarani, 60, said he noticed the black layer of oil two days ago in the Mediterranean. “I was surprised when I saw the dead fish floating on the surface,” he said. Since then, he has been moving from one place to another hoping to find a clean spot along the coast.
“Look at the fish. They are moving in a way that tells they are dying,” he said, pointing his finger at the sea. “I’ve been fishing for 25 years, and I know from experience that they are dying.”
Environmental experts fear that if the burning tank falls into the sea, the amount of fuel spilled into the Mediterranean could reach 20,000 tons.
Private companies and the Kuwaiti government are assisting in the initial cleanup, local media have reported. But officials say that a widespread effort remains too dangerous because of the continuing threat from Israeli forces.
Hadjian estimated it would cost $150 million and take six months to a year to clean up the oil spill alone.
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