Thalif Deen. Inter Press Service. Monday, November 05, 2007.
- Photo: Lebanon Oil Spill 2006.
UNITED NATIONS: When the Israeli Air Force destroyed a slew of oil storage tanks and a key power station during its war against Lebanon in July 2006, the environmental damage was described as devastating. And now, more than 15 months later, the United Nations has released a report detailing the extent of the destruction caused by that oil spill to human health, biodiversity, fisheries and tourism.
The destruction has had “serious implications” for livelihoods and economy in that oft trouble-plagued country.
The Israeli bombing, which destroyed storage tanks and the Jiyyeh power plant, triggered the release of about 15,000 tons of fuel oil into the Mediterranean Sea, leading to the contamination of some 150 kilometers of coastline in Lebanon and neighboring Syria.
The four weeks of bombings resulted in more than 1,183 fatalities in Lebanon, the great majority of them civilians, while at least 4,054 people were wounded and 970,000 Lebanese displaced.
After an assessment of the economic damage, the World Bank said the overall cost was between $527 million and $931 million, averaging about $729 million, or about 3.6 percent of Lebanon’s gross domestic product in 2006.
The damage affected forests, water, air, hotels, beach resorts, public beaches, restaurants and commercial fishing.
The implications of the oil spill have been studied and assessed by over half a dozen international and environmental organizations, including the World Conservation Union (IUCN), the UN Development Program (UNDP), the UN Environment Program, the World Bank and the Food and Agriculture Organization.
According to the IUCN, much of the shoreline ecosystem was physically and chemically contaminated.
The oil spill had a direct impact on biodiversity hot spots and a fragile marine ecosystem, such as the only marine protected area in the country: the Palm Islands Nature Reserve.
In a report to the current session of the General Assembly, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urges the government of Israel “to take the necessary actions toward assuming responsibility for prompt and adequate compensation to the government of Lebanon.”
The international efforts to help Lebanon should be intensified, he says, in the study titled “Oil Slick on Lebanese Shores,” since “Lebanon is still engaged in oil removal, treatment of wastes and monitoring of recovery.”
“It should also be recognized that this oil spill is not covered by any of the international oil-spill compensation funds, and thus merits special consideration,” he notes.
According to the report, financial and technical aid have so far come from over a dozen countries, including Kuwait, Norway, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Monaco, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Japan and the US.
But Israel, which caused the spill, is conspicuously absent from the list of donors.
To date, the report says, the government of Israel has yet to assume its responsibility for prompt and adequate compensation for the spill to the government of Lebanon.
The UNDP, which reviewed the many international and regional conventions that relate to oil pollution, found that all conventions are “inapplicable during armed hostilities.”
Additionally, the agreements that relate to spill compensation pertain only to oil spills from tanker vessels at sea, and not land-based incidents.
The UN report also says that when the oil spill occurred in July 2006, “it overwhelmed national response capacity because of the ongoing conflict, the simultaneous need for a massive humanitarian response, the destruction of infrastructure and a land, air and sea blockade by Israel.”
These factors impeded initial efforts for international assistance in cleaning the oil.
In a report released last year, the human rights organization Amnesty International (AI) said that during more than four weeks of ground and aerial bombardment by the Israeli armed forces, the country’s infrastructure suffered destruction on a “catastrophic scale.”
Israeli forces pounded buildings into the ground, reducing entire neighborhoods to rubble and turning villages into ghost towns, as their inhabitants fled the bombardments. Main roads, bridges and petrol stations were blown to bits, AI noted.
Entire families were killed in air strikes on their homes or in their vehicles while fleeing the aerial assaults on their villages.
Scores lay buried beneath the rubble of their houses for weeks, as the Red Cross and other rescue workers were prevented from accessing the areas by continuing Israeli strikes.
“The Israeli Air Force launched more than 7,000 air attacks on about 7,000 targets in Lebanon between 12 July and 14 August 2006, while the Navy conducted an additional 2,500 bombardments,” AI added.
On the humanitarian front, the UN and its relief agencies were outraged over the destruction of lives and infrastructure in Lebanon, in what then Secretary General Kofi Annan called a “grossly disproportionate use of military force.”