Oil leaking from a bombed power station in Lebanon has reached the coastline of neighbouring Syria and is spreading north, the Kenya-based United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says. Lebanon's Environment Ministry has called it the worst environmental disaster to hit the Arab state. The spill has already polluted over 80 kilometres of Lebanon's coastline...
The environmental damage has attracted little media attention but experts warn the long-term effects could be devastating.
Some 110 000 barrels of oil poured into the Mediterranean two weeks ago after Israeli warplanes hit a coastal power plant. One tank is still burning, sending clouds of thick black smoke across the country. Compounding the problem is an Israeli naval blockade and continuing military operations that have made any cleanup impossible. And environmental officials say the longer the problem is allowed to go unchecked, the greater the lasting damage.
Israeli jets hit storage tanks at the Jiyyeh plant south of the Lebanese capital Beirut at the onset of the war. The blasts caused an estimated 10,000 to 30,000 tonne oil spillage into the Mediterranean.
"Satellite imagery now shows that the oil slick has entered Syrian waters and has already contaminated approximately 10 kilometres of coastline north of the borders between Syria and Lebanon," UNEP said. Local ecologists say the oil is especially threatening since fish spawn and sea turtles, including the endangered green turtle, nest on Lebanon's coast.
"An environmental catastrophe is threatening the Mediterranean region hostilities must cease to guarantee immediate access to the affected area," said Paul Misfud, coordinator for UNEP-Mediterranean Action Plan.
The Worldwide Fund says the oil pollution has reached "catastrophic proportions", about 30,000 tonnes of heating oil had leaked into the sea. It could not be excluded that the oil slick would reach Turkey and Cyprus. The WWF said rare sea turtles were threatened with extinction, as well as fish stocks already decimated by over fishing, and migratory birds.
"The oil has been drifting in the Mediterranean for alomst three weeks. Each day more makes the situation worse for human beings and nature," warned the WWF. If not removed, the oil would form lumps and sink to the bottom of the sea. From there, its poisons would get into the food chain, and could ultimately, via fish, get back to humans as well.
The first country to rush and help Lebanon was Kuwait, which suffered a similar disaster during the 1991 Gulf War. But three truckloads of cleanup supplies the country sent in are stuck in Beirut, with crews waiting for the fighting to wane before beginning their work, said the capital's mayor, Abdel Monem Ariss.
"We have no access to Lebanon territorial waters," Sarraf said. "This means that we are already 10 days delayed and in terms of oil pollution, 10 days is a century."
In Geneva, the UNEP's Steiner said the agency has teams on standby to move to Lebanon as soon as the conditions permit. "Oil and marine diversity do not mix well," Steiner said. "We are immediately concerned for marine life in the area." Sarraf likened the disaster to the Erika spill off of France in 1999, when the oil tanker split in two and dumped 70 000 barrels of oil into the Atlantic that washed up along 400 km of French shoreline.
Compiled from various media sources using Google News: http://news.google.com.
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