Raed El Rafei / The Daily Star – 2006-08-21 09:21:25
BEIRUT (August 19, 2006) — The Environment Ministry has prevented environmental NGOs from cleaning up Lebanon’s beaches, polluted by an oil spill caused by an Israeli air strike on the Jiyyeh power plant, environmental activists said Friday. “It is a shame that the Environment Ministry is erecting administrative obstacles to stop us from cleaning the beach,” said Wael Hmaidan, coordinator of the Oil Spill Working Group comprised of several NGOs.
A few dozen volunteers led by Green Line — a local environmental group – began cleaning the Ramlet al-Baida beach Thursday. But to the volunteers’ surprise, security forces stopped them from removing the pol-luted sand, saying they had no official permission to do so.
“This is an environmental crime,” Hmaidan said, adding that the longer the polluted oil was left on the beach the greater the damage to the environment would be.
The ministry initially approved Green Line’s cleaning of the beach, but later refused to allow the group to store the polluted sand “for no substantial reason,” Hmaidan added.
“We rented a temporary storage lot for the sand after the ministry failed to find this space. But then ministry officials refused to let us remove the oil contaminated sand,” Hmaidan said.
Officials from the Environment Ministry were not available for comment.
For Richard Steiner, an expert on oil spills, the sooner the pollution is dealt with the better.
“The oil which has settled on beaches can be carried by tides back to the water. Because it is combined with sand particles, this oil will sink, polluting a larger part of the sea bed,” said Steiner, who has advised the ministry on the handling of the environmental catastrophe.
Steiner added that the government should take measures to prevent the public from coming in contact with contaminated sea material.
The ministry began this week a clean-up operation in the heavily polluted Byblos port using Norwegian equipment.
In a related development, Israel denied a request Friday for oil spill experts to use French helicopters to survey the levels of pollution offshore, thereby aggravating efforts to contain the worst marine crisis to ever hit the east Mediterranean.
Israel’s air, land and sea blockade has prevented environmentalists from acquiring detailed information on the locations and trajectory of the oil spill.
International experts had on Thursday promised Lebanon immediate help in cleaning the spill, prescribing aerial surveys by helicopter and a concerted effort to clean up to 30 coastal sites in Lebanon.
Senior officials from the UN, the EU and regional states meeting in the Greek port city of Piraeus unveiled a plan to clean up oil-clogged parts of the Lebanese coastline – an operation slated to cost over 50 million euros ($64 million).
Dr. Ali Darwish, a Green Line environmentalist, called on all Mediterranean countries to pressure Israel to lift its blockade on Lebanon and accused the Israeli forces of intentionally causing this environmental crisis.
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