the Disillusioned kid: Slick
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Monday, August 21, 2006


Those of you fortunte enough to be blessed with memories lasting longer than a fortnight may recall my post about the oil slick unleashed by Israel's bombing of the Jiyyeh power station in Lebanon. If so, you may be interested to hear that an impressively monikered International Assistance Action Plan has been prepared by the Experts Working Group for Lebanon under the supervision of the UNEP-MAP's Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) and the Minister of the Environment of Lebanon.

The plan was discussed and agreed "at a meeting in Greece attended by Lebanon, Syria, Greece, Turkey and the EU." It is estimated that the clean up will "cost 50m euros (£34m), with more funds required next year." The plan was agreed on the 17 August, over a month after the power station was bombed on July 13 and 15. Despite the length of time which had passed, the conflict had prevented a thorough assessment of the situation and there are widely differing estimates about just how much oil there is in the water. As a result, the first priority appears to be working out just how bad the mess is. Therefore, "the Action Plan recommends that immediate, helicopter-based aerial surveys with a trained independent observer, be conducted to resolve the issue."

Whatever, the boffins conclude, there is little question that the bombing has greated a hell of a mess. The Beeb's High Sykes, visited Byblos, an ancient port which escaped the Israeli bombardment, but which is now suffering the effects of the slick. Byblos has certainly been hit hard. Berj Hatjian, a senior civil servant at the environment ministry measured the oil in the harbour and discovered that it was more than 2cm thick. Sykes suggest that clearing the harbour will be relatively straightforward, but that cleaning the rocks and beaches into which it is seeping will be much harder, perhaps even impossible.

One beach has been cleared by bulldozing the oily sand to the side, but more serious impacts, such as the introduction of carcinogens into the food chain as whitebait feed in the shade provided by the slick, absorbing many of the poisons it contains, cannot be so easily brushed under the carpet. The impact of the oil and the conflict has decimated tourism in the area. Sykes reports that he was the only guest at the Byblos-sur-Mer hotel and the first visitor to the Crusader castle and Roman ruins in tow weeks, despite the fact that they usually attract between 500 and 1,000 tourists a day in the summer. Not without reson, some local residents wonder if this wasn't Israel's intention. Hatjian argues that the bombing of Jiyyeh was intended as a form of collective punishment: "It has nothing to do with Hezbollah," he said. "It is just hitting the economy of Lebanon - of ancient Phoenicia."

Understandably, the focus in coverage of this conflict has been on the human impact and the environment has falllen by the wayside. Nevertheless, the envrironmetal impacts should not be dismissed as a diversion. Indeed, they have impacts on the local population which may in the long run be just as serious and even more insidious, witness concerns about the release of carcinogenic and their impact on those in the area of the power station or the likely effect on the local economy as fishing and tourism are affected. Whether Israel intended it or not, this may well prove to be yet another way for them to make the Lebanese suffer. Unsurprisingly, nobody (that is to say nobody of consequence) seems to have the cojones to suggest they be made to pay for the clean-up.

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