Assurances of Safe Passage to United Nations Experts Paves Way for Action on Coastal Environmental Emergency
Nairobi, 21 August 2006--Aerial surveys of the Lebanese coast will be swiftly getting underway as a result of assurances given today to the head of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) by the Israeli authorities.
Last week the United Nations, Mediterranean environment ministers and experts met in Athens, Greece, where they agreed to a 50 million Euro Action Plan to deal with the oil pollution.
Aerial surveys, preferably by helicopter but also possibly by plane, were given top priority in order to discover the quantity of oil remaining at sea, as this will impact on the precise next steps for the clean-up operation.
Due to the situation in Lebanon, systematic and comprehensive aerial surveillance has so far not been possible.
Last Friday Achim Steiner, UNEP’s Executive Director, wrote to Gideon Ezra, Israel’s Minister of Environmental Protection, seeking assurance that the flights will be given safe passage.
Today the Minister replied giving such guarantees. The access also facilitates shipment by sea of clean-up equipment into Lebanon for containing any sea-based oil and for clean-up and restoring the Lebanese coastline.
An estimated 10,000 to 15,000 tonnes of oil has spilled from a power utility south of Beirut after it was struck by missiles between 13 and 15 July. Some 150km of the coast has been affected.
Mr Steiner said today: “I would like to acknowledge the response by the Israeli authorities giving safe and secure passage of aerial surveillance flights. It is absolutely vital that these are swiftly undertaken to establish the quantity of oil still floating on the sea and to thus tailor the appropriate clean-up response”.
Computer models estimate that some of the oil has evaporated and significant amounts are now on shore. However, experts remain uncertain as to the precise quantity still at sea which is why the surveys are a top priority.
Mr Steiner said UNEP-- which is cooperating with UN bodies like the International Maritime Organization (IMO), governments including the Lebanese authorities, the European Commission and non-governmental organizations-- would be requesting its joint unit to coordinate the flights and pin point a suitable helicopter or plane.
The joint unit, which has a team in partnership with the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Centre on the ground in Lebanon, is operated by UNEP and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.
Notes to Editors
The need for aerial surveillance was identified in The International Assistance Action Plan tabled and approved in Athens, Greece, on 17 August 2006.
It was prepared by the Experts Working Group for Lebanon and supervised by the IMO/UNEP Regional Marine Pollution Emergency response Centre for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC)
Members include the joint UNEP/Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs environment unit; the European Commission Monitoring Information Centre; the International Tanker Owner Petroleum Federation; the United Nations Development Programme; ICRAM- Istituto Centrale per la Ricerca Scientifica e Tecnologica Applicata al Mare; the Oceanography Centre-University of Cyprus and CEDRE- the Centre de Documentation, de Recherche et d'Expérimentations sur les Pollutions Accidentelles des Eaux.
For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: +254 20 7623084, Mobile: +254 733 632755, E-mail: email@example.com
Luisa Colasimone, Information Officer, UNEP-MAP Mediterranean Action Plan, on Tel: +30 210 7273 148, Mobile: +30 69 49 122746 or E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
UNEP News Release 2006/42