Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Peace blogger

Even the Environment is Under Attack
Oil spill in Lebanon is the biggest environmental disaster in the history of the country

By Wael Hmaidan
GreenLine activist, coordinator of oil spill working group

The escalating Israeli attack on Lebanon did not only kill its civilians and destroy its infrastructure, but also it is heavily impacting its natural and urban environment. The different environmental impacts of this war vary from the uncontrolled burning of solid waste, which has been accumulating in some areas with no more waste collection, to the possible use of depleted uranium in the Israeli bombs and rockets.
Nevertheless, the worst environmental impact happened on the first and second day of the start of the war, when an Israeli raid on the Jiyeh electrical power plant has resulted in an oil spill into to sea of around 15,000 tons. This oil spill has hit more than 100km of Lebanese coast, and now it has reached Syria. This oil spill is not only one of the biggest environmental disasters in the history of Lebanon. It is also a regional catastrophe affecting the whole Eastern Med basin, and there is a possibility that it would reach other neighboring countries such as Cyprus, Turkey and Greece.

This spill will have a tremendous negative environmental, social and economical impact. The Eastern Mediterranean basin has one of the most important ecosystems in the Mediterranean sea. The oil spill has impacted sensitive fish spawning and nursery areas, as well as, valuable sea turtle nesting sites, especially the green turtle, which is endangered in the Mediterranean. The timing of the spill could not have been worse. In this period of the year, sea turtle eggs start to hatch, and make their way towards the sea. With the oil spill in their way, they will have no chance in making it. The air pollution resulting from the continuous burning for more than 3 weeks of the fuel in the Jiyeh power plant has been covering greater Beirut area, which on the longer term will lead to increased cancer cases from Dioxin, respiratory problems and other diseases.

This spill will also have a huge impact on tourism and other economical sectors. The Lebanese coast is an important tourist destination, which a big chunk of it has become useless, because it is covered with black oil. The total economical cost of this oil spill has been estimated to be more than 200 million dollars, which is more than the money needed for all the relief work.

What makes this spill more dangerous is the fact that after more than 3 weeks from the start of the incident, no clean up operations have started yet due to the Israeli siege and attack on Lebanon. Israel has targeted ambulances, aid trucks, and hospitals in this war. There is no guarantee that they will not target cleanup operations. The Israeli siege has also prevented us from carrying accurate assessment of the spill. Lebanon is not able to use boats or planes to properly monitor the oil spill.

This will make clean up operations much more difficult, and the damage will grow exponentially. Now the oil has settled deeper and deeper into the sand, and has been absorbed more and more into the rocks. As some of the oil evaporates its density increases, and some of it will settle into the seabed; clogging important rock openings that are usually used by fish for spawning and hiding from predators. Also, the longer the oil stays in the water, the more it breaks into its constituents and dissolves into the water. This will lead to build up of hydrocarbons and other impurities in the living tissues of marine life.

On the social level, some local fishermen, especially in Beirut and Jbeil, have not been able to fish for more than 20 days because their boats are stuck in oil. Very few of them have risked their equipment by venturing out to fish, because their families needed income to survive. When these fishermen return with their body and equipment covered with black dense oil, they use gasoline to clean the spots of their skin. Although they know the impact of such an act on their health, they say that they have no choice.

This oil spill will require more than six month to clean, and we will feel its impact for more than 5 years, and the more we delay the clean up the bigger the damage. Therefore, Lebanese environmental NGOs demands an immediate and final ceasefire, so that accurate assessment operations can be carried and cleanup operations can start as soon as possible. They also put the primary responsibility of this environmental crime on Israel. There was no need or excuse for Israel to target the fuel tanks in the Jiyeh electrical power plant.

Lebanese Environmental NGOs:GreenLine, Bahr Loubnan, Syndicate of Lebanese Professional Divers, Byblos Ecologia

Map of impacted coastal areas by oil spill in Lebanon

Thursday, July 27, 2006

Peace blogger

War in Lebanon Brings About the Biggest Environmental Catastrophe in the History of the Country:
15,000 ton Oil Spill from Jiyyeh Power Plant Hits Most of the Lebanese Coast

By Wael Hmaidan

The escalating Israeli attack on Lebanon did not only kill its civilians and destroy its infrastructure, but it is also annihilating its environment. Last week a 15,000 ton oil spill resulted from the Israeli air raid on the Jiyyeh power plant South of Lebanon. The power plant has 6 fuel tanks. Four of them have burned completely, while the fifth one, which is also the main cause of the spill, is still burning. The Lebanese ministry of environment is worried that the sixth tank, which is underground and so far intact, is going to explode and increase the magnitude of the problem.

The oil slick appeared for the first time last week on the once beautiful beach of Ramlet El-Beida in Beirut, which is (or now used to be) the only public beach that Beiruties can enjoy in the Lebanese capital. Upon this finding, several environmental activists alerted the media on the spill, which in turn has mobilized the municipality of Beirut and the Ministry of Environment. After a few days of investigation it became obvious that more than 100km of the Lebanese coast, from Jiyyeh in the South to Chekka in the North has been hit by this oil spill.

Lebanese environmental NGOs have labeled the spill as the worst environmental crisis in Lebanon’s history. Just for the sake of comparison, in 2003 a 50 ton oil spill in the North by a cement company was a huge blow to the Lebanese coastal environment, and required a years clean up effort. The current spill is 300 times bigger, and there is a big possibility that more oil will go into the sea.

This spill will have a huge negative impact on the Mediterranean marine environment. The Lebanese coast is a very important site for fish spawning and sea turtle nesting, including the green turtle, which is an endangered species in the Mediterranean.

During the month of July, turtle eggs start to hatch and all baby turtles will need to reach deep waters as fast as possible. With the oil slick in their way baby turtles will have no chance of making it. Also, Blue Fin Tuna, which is a very important commercial species in the Mediterranean and which has been under severe stress from over-fishing, are present in the Eastern Mediterranean coastal water in this period of the year. The oil spill, of which part of it has settled on the sea floor, will threaten the blue fin tuna and other fish species spawning areas.

Another important impact of the spill is the effect on tourism in the future. The Lebanese coast is an important tourist destination, and after the war ends, Lebanon will need every source of income to rebuild its infrastructure. Now the beautiful Lebanese white beaches are covered with a black layer and the smell of fuel can be smelled a good distance in land, rendering them toxic and useless.

According to media and the Ministry of Environment said that this oil spill is bigger than what the local authority can handle and urgent help is needed from outside. The Ministry of Environment has organized a team to follow on this issue, and have requested help from the United Nations Environmental Program and the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Center for the Mediterranean (REMPEC). The Kuwaiti Environment Authority has responded to the Lebanese government call and promised to send equipment and expertise to help in the clean up. Nevertheless, the constant Israeli air raids will make the clean up operation very difficult. Last week Israel targeted ambulances and aid trucks coming into the country. There is no guarantee that Israel will not target any equipment that approaches the beach, and clean up efforts might not be in place until a cease fire has been reached.
This spill will not be the only environmental impact of the attack on Lebanon. Other impacts include air pollution and chemical spills due to the targeting of industrial factories, fuel bunkers, and other flammable structures; the use of depleted uranium in Israeli bombs, and the huge waste and sanitary crisis resulting from the 750,000 refugees in Lebanon, which can lead to water pollution and the spread of diseases. A full assessment of the environmental impact of this war can only happen after the conflict is over and Lebanon should work with the international community on this issue.

Wael Hmaidan was the Greenpeace Campaigner for the Arab World for the past three years. Currently he is an environmental activist and environmental policy advisor for Lebanese and regional NGOs.
Contact information: Wael Hmaidan, mobile: +961-3-506313,
email: whmaidan@care2.com

Monday, July 24, 2006

Although I always was a peace and environmental activist, I was mainly environmental. Now I have no choice... The past 2 weeks my whole life changed... Don't know about the future anymore... I had plans, dreams, ideas... Now, I live day by day... Now, I am trying to something about what is happening to Lebanon... Life can wait for a while.