Friday, August 4, 2006

Just One Environmental Consequence of War


Try to forget politics for a moment.
Let me assert this right up front again that I am NOT taking political sides here,

Point 1: Bickering over who started the current Israeli/Lebanese mess won’t solve the incredible disaster that has befallen the eastern Mediterranean waters and coastline. An entire ecosystem is in eminent danger of dying unless something is done very soon.

Point 2: Heated debate over whether Hezbollah started the war with Israel can only serve to divert attention from this major but nearly unnoticed crisis.

Point 3: Assertions whether or not Israel purposely targeted oil tanks nearest the sea and the earthen dikes used to contain a spill won’t serve any purpose other than to politically delay urgently needed ecological repair action.

Having gotten that out of the way,
let’s look at the facts, and not the inevitable rhetoric that's sure to follow.

The Jiyveh Power plant on the Lebanese coast 18 miles south of Beirut was nearly destroyed during bombing raids July 14 and 15. In the process, two tanks (irresponsibly) a mere 80 feet from the Mediterranean Sea were hit. One of those 25,000-ton tanks of volatile and explosive fuel oil is still burning, spreading choking black acrid smoke with the prevailing winds; the other leaked its contents into the sea.

Estimates are that only about 20 percent of the resulting accumulated sludge has evaporated. It’s also been estimated that it would take in excess of $60 million just to clean the coastal areas and, even if the work began tomorrow, the job would not be completed until next summer — if then. The spill also threatens Turkey, Greece, and Cyprus, and marine life in general in the entire Eastern Mediterranean.

Eighty miles (approximately one third) of the Lebanese coastline has been affected by leakage into the sea. Estimates vary that from 110,000-115,000 barrels of oil stain the rocky coastline and at least that amount again now coats the surface of the eastern Mediterranean coast. The once tourist-lined and pristine white sandy beaches are now coated with thick black slime. About 80 percent of Lebanon’s beautiful sun-drenched coastal areas are also plagued with the stench of oil, dead fish and sea birds.

So far many European countries, including France, Italy, and Spain, have given advice, but only Kuwait has sent actual help. The problem is that Kuwaiti truck caravans loaded with provisions and equipment to deal with the problem are trapped in Beirut. Experienced crews have been forced to wait out the hostilities before they can set to work helping Lebanon with the crisis. Long-term damage to the tourist industry and the local economy in general is inevitable and even more harm will be done if the political posturing and bickering doesn’t stop. What’s needed is a pause, long enough for professionals to get in there and start working to contain the damage.

Environmental scientists point to the grim plight of endangered sea turtles who are just now beginning to hatch in the sand and must make it through the sludge to the sea to survive but surely won't. The damage to the entire ecosystem of the eastern third of the Mediterranean could take up to ten years to recover, more if there are additional delays.

Scientists have been asserting that the longer it takes to get started, the more permanent the damage will be.

WARNING: Reproduction of the FIRST PARAGRAPH of this article is permitted as long as a link back to it is provided.
Reproduction of any part this article past the first paragraph is forbidden without the author's permission
©-2006 by Jet Gardner/

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