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 Damage Assessments
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Clean up of Oil Spill Could Take Years, Cost Millions
Posted on: 9/18/2006 12:33:00 PM


It will take between one to two years to clean up Lebanon’s beaches at a cost that may reach $50 million. The oil spill caused by Israel’s bombing of fuel storage tanks at the Jiyeh power station, is washing up on beaches in the Mediterranean.


Lauren Walker, a columnist with a holiday home in Greece, says in an email: "I am in our house on a beach in Greece. Last night, I watched loggerhead turtles hatch 50 metres from our house ... magic! But the oil spill in Lebanon is turning into the biggest environmental disaster in the Mediterranean since Exxon (Exxon Valdez, which spilled in Prince William Sound, Alaska) in 1989.


"Conservative estimates are that it will cost US$50 million to clean up the Lebanese beaches and that most of the eastern Mediterranean will become affected," she says.


"The actual damage will take years to assess. The main problem in the Mediterranean this year is the rise in the number of jelly fish. Turtles usually eat them and environmentalists are saying that the changing balance of nature will see a continued increase in poisonous varieties."


The cost of restoration and cleaning up is mounting. Weeks after the cessation of hostilities, the oil spills are threatening coastal waters, not only of Lebanon and its more than 200 beaches, but also Syria and Turkey.


The economic effects of the spill go far beyond the immediate coastline. More than 1.6 million tourists had been expected this year - bringing in US$4.4 billion, said Tourism Minister Joe Sarkis.


Tourism accounts for about 12 per cent of the economy. Seaside resorts and restaurants account for more than half of that. "Without the sea, it would reduce the attraction of Lebanon," Sarkis said. "It might take between one and two years to clean."


And over the longer term, unless the area is cleaned up and the cluster bombs systematically removed, there will always be questions as to whether Lebanon and its beaches are a safe holiday destination.


Back in Nicosia where she lives, Lauren adds: "As far as I know, the oil slick is now being tackled but it's a long hard slog." And she is right.


Not only has much of the infrastructure been destroyed, but the equipment needed to clean up the spills cannot be delivered to the affected areas fast enough. The longer it takes to clean up the oil spills, the greater the damage to the environment and economy.


Fishermen are having a hard time making ends meet. Thousands of families who depend on the sea for their primary food supply - fish - are also in dire straits.


Even if they survived the hostilities and escaped the cluster bombs, their fish supplies could be contaminated, leading to medical problems over the longer term.


Environmentalists say they are concerned by the possible use of depleted uranium, air pollution caused by fires and the destruction of houses and factories as well as the long term effects of war on rural and farming communities' interaction with their environment.


There is increasing evidence that the conflict will leave greater long-term legacies, in addition to the huge losses of lives and material damage. And work to tackle this has not even started. (AP)


2007 Presidency of the Council of Ministers. All Rights Reserved.
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