Creating people's geographies
BBC 8 August 2006
A satellite image shows the extent of the slick
Lebanon’s coastline could take up to 10 years to recover from a massive oil spill, the nation’s environment minister has said.
Yacoub Sarraf said it was impossible to tackled the problem while the conflict between Hezbollah and Israel continued.
The United Nations has warned the spill could pose a cancer risk to people living in the affected areas.
The oil slick caused by Israeli bombing of a power station now covers 120km (75 miles) of the region’s coasts.
Mr Sarraf said the delay had already severely affected the Lebanese shores.
“The damage has been done. It goes without saying that the whole fishing community will be hit for at least two or three years before the ecosystem re-establishes itself,” he told BBC News.
We cannot get equipment, companies, labour or know-how to handle the problem
“The tourism sector has also been hit for one or two seasons, and I am being very optimistic.
“But worse, if we do not intervene as soon as possible, the spill that is still floating off the coast of Lebanon could return and hit the shores again.”
Mr Sarraf added that until there was a ceasefire, it would be impossible to begin any clean-up operation.
“We cannot get equipment, companies, labour or know-how to handle the problem,” he said.
“If you compare this to any spill in history, intervention can help within the first 48-72 hours of the spill; we are already 20 days too late.”
The United Nations Environment Programme (Unep) issued a warning on Tuesday that the raid on the Jiyyeh Power plant in mid-July could pose a cancer risk to people living in the area.
The spill was caused by Israeli bombing of the Jiyyeh power station
Simonetta Lombardo of Unep’s Mediterranean Action Plan said the spill of fuel oil was a “high-risk toxic cocktail made up of substances which cause cancer and damage to the endocrine system”.
UN experts warned that the first people at risk from the “toxic spray” were the two million inhabitants of Beirut.
They also said that large quantities of dead fish along Lebanon’s shores had been killed by the oil pollution.
Basma Badran, a Beirut-based spokeswoman for Greenpeace, said no clean-up operation would get under way until workers’ safety could be guaranteed.
“It is an extremely risky task to make the proper assessment while under fire,” she told BBC News.
“Several countries are on stand-by to send technical and expert assistance if the safety of their supplies and teams can be guaranteed.”
Ms Badran added that international help was essential because the Lebanese authorities lacked any capacity to deal with such a large spill.
The Lebanese environment minister said the latest satellite images showed the oil slick was continuing to spread across the eastern Mediterranean Sea, threatening the coastlines of Turkey and possibly Cyprus.
However, a spokesman for Turkey’s prime minister said the risk to the country’s shores was “fairly limited”, but aircraft were carrying out regular monitoring flights and that naval vessels were ready to deploy floating barriers if needed.