Lebanon: ecological disaster looms

From IRIN, July 29:

Lebanon is facing an environmental crisis after an Israeli air strike on the Jiyeh power station, about 20km south of Beirut caused 10,000 tonnes of oil to spill into the Mediterranean sea.

The air strikes on 13 and 15 July hit the power station’s fuel tanks and the leaking oil was pushed north by winds, and a thick sludge now coats much of the Lebanese coastline. At least 80km of the 200km coastline is affected.

Officials at Lebanon’s environment ministry say that the clean-up operation will take at least a year to complete and at an estimated cost of more than US $ 130 million.

“It is about 10,000 tonnes of oil, but because of the security situation we cannot go into the sea to see what the real situation is,” said a spokeswoman at the ministry, who requested anonymity.

There are fears that more oil could spill into the sea due to a fire at the facility that began on Thursday and now threatens a undamaged tank that contains 15,000 tonnes of oil.

The fire at the facility has created a thick cloud of black smoke that has polluted the air over Beirut and its suburbs.

Government officials say although the fire poses a environmental hazard in the long-term it is less damaging than a spill into the sea.

“It’s good in a way because air pollution is the better of the two evils,” the spokeswoman said.

The oil spill will have a serious long-term impact on the fishing and tourism industries which already have been hit hard by the conflict between Israel and Hizbullah.

Fishermen are unable to take their boats out to the sea due to the presence of the Israeli navy off the coast of Lebanon, and most tourists have fled the country.

Arif Hala an employee at a café on the Ramlet al-Baida beach in Beirut said the summer trade had been ruined by both the war and the oil spill.

“The situation is terrible… normally during the summer season we would make 10 or 15 million Lebanese pounds (US $6,666) a week, but that is finished now,” he said.

Officials have warned people who live near the sea to keep their windows closed and stay away from the oil as the fumes can cause skin and breathing problems.

The spill will also threaten Lebanon’s marine life and endangered species such as the Green Turtle and the Blue Fin Tuna.

See our last post on the Lebanon crisis.