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UN News Centre:UN agencies agree on clean-up plan to tackle oil spill polluting Lebanon and Syria



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UN News Centre:UN agencies agree on clean-up plan to tackle oil spill polluting Lebanon and Syria


Oil slick affected-area along Lebanese coastline

17 August 2006 – United Nations agencies backed a wide-ranging multimillion dollar action plan today to tackle up to 15,000 tonnes of fuel oil that spewed into the Mediterranean Sea, killing marine life and affecting around 150 kilometres of Lebanese and Syrian coastline, after a power utility was damaged last month during the fighting between Israel and Hizbollah.

The plan, which envisages an initial cost of around $64 million with possibly more funds needed next year, was agreed to at a meeting convened by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) in Athens, Greece, and which also involved countries in the region and the European Commission.

“Now the bombs have stopped and the guns have been silenced we have a chance to rapidly assess the true magnitude of the problem and finally mobilize the support for an oil clean-up and a restoration of the coastline,” said Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director.

“The experts are on standby and today the international community have agreed on an action plan. I sincerely hope we have secured the financial backing to swiftly and comprehensively deliver on this promise to the Lebanese people, on this request to the UN for assistance from the Lebanese authorities,” he added.

The International Assistance Action Plan envisages three stages of response, namely priority short-term actions – including immediate helicopter aerial surveys to determine the extent of the pollution; medium-term actions – including a workforce of 300 people cleaning up to 30 sites simultaneously; and long-term actions to assess the lessons learned.

“I am delighted that we have been able to agree on this action plan which now sets the stage for the wide-ranging assistance the Lebanese and, to a lesser extent, the Syrian authorities so urgently need,” said Efthimios Mitropoulos, Secretary-General of the IMO.

Several countries have offered clean-up and oil containment equipment and the Plan recommends that each donor providing equipment should also make available one or several specialists to train local staff in its use. It also highlights a “continually evolving scenario demanding a move, for example, from vacuum trucks and pumps to mechanical grabs as the oil becomes more viscous”.

The Plan has been prepared by the Experts Working Group for Lebanon under the supervision of the UNEP-Mediterranean Action Plan’s Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC) and the Minister of the Environment of Lebanon.

___________________________________________________________________________


Xinhua: Cyprus terms international meeting on oil spill "constructive"


[also appears in People’s Daily Online]

Cyprus on Thursday praised an international meeting in Piraeus, Greece, for coordinating efforts to address the pollution resulting from an oil spill that threatens the eastern Mediterranean.

Minister of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environment Fotis Fotiou made the remarks upon returning home from Greece after the Piraeus meeting organized by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) and the UN Environment Program (UNEP).

The meeting adopted an action plan to be implemented immediately, he told the press, adding that the 50 million euros anti-pollution action plan is divided into three parts, two of which will come into force immediately.

The oil spill, estimated to be one of the largest ever to affect the Mediterranean, follows an incident in mid-July, in which an oil storage unit at a power plant in Jiyyeh, 30 km south of Beirut, sustained Israeli bombing damage during the recent Israel-Hezbollah fighting.

Asked who will shoulder the cost of 50 million euros needed for the plan implementation, Fotiou said that participants at the meeting discussed the possibility to ask Israel to contribute financially and in other ways to the efforts.

"We will see in a few days," he said, adding that he intends to meet with Israeli ambassador to Cyprus to discuss the matter.

Fotiou also revealed that the European Union (EU) is undertaking an important part of the cost, while other countries have expressed their commitment to assist to the efforts.

__________________________________________________________________________

IHT: UN wants to contain oil spill caused by war


By Anthee Carassava The New York Times

[also appears in New York Times, Houston Chronicle]

Published: August 17, 2006

PIRAEUS, Greece The United Nations Environment Program pledged €50 million in aid Thursday to help clean up and contain a large Mediterranean oil spill caused by the conflict in Lebanon.

Described by experts as the worst environmental disaster in the country's history, the slick of 140 kilometers, or 90 miles, stained Lebanese shores after Israeli warplanes bombed the Jiyyeh power station, 30 kilometers south of Beirut, July 13 to 15.

Fighting between Israel and Hezbollah prevented experts from inspecting the most affected areas. But the cease- fire allowed the start of an international campaign to clean and contain the devastating spill, according to UN, European and maritime officials who met here for crisis talks.

"Now that the bombs have stopped and the guns have silenced," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program, "we have a chance to rapidly assess the true magnitude of the problem and finally mobilize the support for an oil cleanup and restoration of the coastline."

Up to 15,000 tons of heavy fuel poured into the Mediterranean Sea after the Jiyyeh bombings, polluting also the Syrian coast and threatening neighboring countries with ecological damage.

The eventual spillage could total 35,000 tons, almost as much as what leaked into waters during the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker accident in Alaska, officials said at the crisis meeting.

Yacoub Sarraf, the Lebanese environment minister, told meeting delegates: "The treatment of this spill, the re-establishment of the ecosystem will take years. Immediate action, however, has to start, even if a permanent solution to the Middle East is not set yet."

Under the four-page UN environmental action plan, a number of Mediterranean countries would contribute personnel, training and equipment like dispersants, booms, absorbents and skimmers to contain the slick from spreading further.

Kuwait and Norway have already sent chemicals and equipment to clean up the oil, and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies said it would make a contribution toward the UN program, which also calls for immediate aerial surveys to assess the extent of the spill.

Satellite images compiled by the UN show that the cost of clean up could exceed €50 million, or $64 million, "with more funds possibly needed in 2007," according to a copy of the plan. It stresses that "time is and will continue to have an impact on the cleanup," as oil at sea will become increasingly fragmented and "difficult to recover as it mixes with sediments and sand."

On Wednesday, the Lebanese began mopping black sludge and deploying vacuum trucks and pumps to clean tar balls that have settled on most of Beirut's sandy coast.

Environmentalists say endangered Mediterranean wildlife, like the green turtle, whose eggs hatch on Lebanese and Syrian beaches, in July, face imminent threat.

Moreover, they add, the spill could damage tourism, deprive fishermen of their livelihoods and endanger human health with a heightened risk of cancer.

"It is not oil that has flowed but fuel for power stations," the UN said this month. "This contains carcinogenic agents such as benzene."

Last week said his country would sue Israel for "this incredible crime." He made no such reference in Greece.

PIRAEUS, Greece The United Nations Environment Program pledged €50 million in aid Thursday to help clean up and contain a large Mediterranean oil spill caused by the conflict in Lebanon.

Described by experts as the worst environmental disaster in the country's history, the slick of 140 kilometers, or 90 miles, stained Lebanese shores after Israeli warplanes bombed the Jiyyeh power station, 30 kilometers south of Beirut, July 13 to 15.

Fighting between Israel and Hezbollah prevented experts from inspecting the most affected areas. But the cease- fire allowed the start of an international campaign to clean and contain the devastating spill, according to UN, European and maritime officials who met here for crisis talks.

"Now that the bombs have stopped and the guns have silenced," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the UN Environment Program, "we have a chance to rapidly assess the true magnitude of the problem and finally mobilize the support for an oil cleanup and restoration of the coastline."

Up to 15,000 tons of heavy fuel poured into the Mediterranean Sea after the Jiyyeh bombings, polluting also the Syrian coast and threatening neighboring countries with ecological damage.

The eventual spillage could total 35,000 tons, almost as much as what leaked into waters during the 1989 Exxon Valdez tanker accident in Alaska, officials said at the crisis meeting.

Yacoub Sarraf, the Lebanese environment minister, told meeting delegates: "The treatment of this spill, the re-establishment of the ecosystem will take years. Immediate action, however, has to start, even if a permanent solution to the Middle East is not set yet."

Under the four-page UN environmental action plan, a number of Mediterranean countries would contribute personnel, training and equipment like dispersants, booms, absorbents and skimmers to contain the slick from spreading further.

Kuwait and Norway have already sent chemicals and equipment to clean up the oil, and the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Companies said it would make a contribution toward the UN program, which also calls for immediate aerial surveys to assess the extent of the spill.

Satellite images compiled by the UN show that the cost of clean up could exceed €50 million, or $64 million, "with more funds possibly needed in 2007," according to a copy of the plan. It stresses that "time is and will continue to have an impact on the cleanup," as oil at sea will become increasingly fragmented and "difficult to recover as it mixes with sediments and sand."

On Wednesday, the Lebanese began mopping black sludge and deploying vacuum trucks and pumps to clean tar balls that have settled on most of Beirut's sandy coast.

Environmentalists say endangered Mediterranean wildlife, like the green turtle, whose eggs hatch on Lebanese and Syrian beaches, in July, face imminent threat.

Moreover, they add, the spill could damage tourism, deprive fishermen of their livelihoods and endanger human health with a heightened risk of cancer.

"It is not oil that has flowed but fuel for power stations," the UN said this month. "This contains carcinogenic agents such as benzene."

Last week said his country would sue Israel for "this incredible crime." He made no such reference in Greece.

___________________________________________________________________________





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