Washington, 18 August 2006 – World attention has focused on the fighting and human casualties of the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah. But environmental damage in the region appears severe. Many of the once-pristine beaches in Lebanon are black with oil. A bombed power plant about 30 kilometers south of Beirut and within 100 meters of the sea burned for over three weeks. It polluted the skies with black smoke and leaked thousands of barrels of oil into the sea. Environmentalist Wael Hmaidan says, “If there wasn’t other issues covering this problem this would be the story of the year in the Mediterranean region.”
Satellite imagery shows rapid spreading of the oil slick. More than 80 kilometers of coastline have been affected. There are reports of problems all the way to Syria. Berj Hatjian is with Lebanon’s environmental ministry. “What we have here is the equivalent of a tanker sinking into the sea and 20 to 30,000 tons reaching the shore line.”
Edgar Cherab is with the United Nations Environmental Program. He worries about what can be done. “We don’t have the equipment nor the proper knowledge in the country.” Fishermen and marine life are feeling the first effects of the spreading oil. Estimates differ wildly on the amount of oil spilled and the extent of the destruction. United Nations’ experts coordinating damage and clean-up efforts say any oil slick of this magnitude will have serious ramifications for the environment.