UN Environment-Backed Pollution Centre Responding to Requests from Lebanon over Oil Slick Emergency
Experts on Stand-by for Sea and Shoreline Clean Up
30 July 2006, Nairobi--The head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today expressed grave concern over the environmental situation unfolding off the Lebanese coast.
An oil slick, caused by the destruction of the Jiyyeh power utility 30km south of Beirut after being struck by Israeli bombs, is now reported to be affecting up to 80 km of the Lebanese coastline and threatening the Syrian one too.
Achim Steiner, a UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP’s Executive Director, said requests of assistance from the government of Lebanon were being responded to by the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Center for the Mediterranean Sea (REMPEC).
REMPEC, administered by the UN International Maritime Organization and part UNEP’s Regional Seas Network, is giving advice to the Lebanese Ministry of the Environment on how to tackle the heavy fuel oil slick.
The Center has also requested assistance for equipment and personnel from governments who are parties to the Barcelona Convention, the regional Mediterranean environment treaty.
Several countries have already responded positively.
The Center is also putting together a team of leading experts ready to assist with the clean up when hostilities cease and has put its Mediterranean Assistance Unit on standby to mobilize key pollution control centers in the region.
These may include CEDRE- the Centre de Documentation, de Recherche et d'Expérimentations sur les Pollutions Accidentelles des Eaux- based in Brest, France’ and FEDERCHIMICA—the Federazione Nazionale dell’Industria Chimica-, the Italian National Federation of Chemical Industry with its headquarters in Milano.
Another is ICRAM- Istituto Centrale per la Ricerca Scientifica e Tecnologica Applicata al Mare, an Italian research institute specialized in environmental aspects of spill response and post-incident response activities located in Rome.
Meanwhile the joint UNEP/OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) Environment Unit in close collaboration with the IMO is also on standby to send a team and is closely monitoring the situation. The joint unit is also looking at how it can support REMPEC’s fund raising efforts.
Mr. Steiner said:” The government of Lebanon has requested international assistance from the United Nations and we stand ready to do all we can as soon as it is possible to carry out this urgent work”
“We share the Lebanese authorities’ concerns over the impact on coastal communities who are being affected by an environmental tragedy which is rapidly taking on a national but also a regional dimension. We must also be concerned about the short and long term impacts on the marine environment including the biodiversity upon which so many people depend for their livelihoods and living via tourism and fishing,” he added.
Mr. Steiner said he was also concerned about the humanitarian and environmental impacts linked with strikes on other infrastructure like airports and sea ports and the likely pollution resulting.
“Firstly our thoughts are with the suffering of the civilian population and the immediate crisis of the oil slick. But when the conflict is over, we must do all we can to rapidly pin point pollution hotspots in rivers, in the air, in the sea and on the land which can have a detrimental impact on human health and well being. Other sites, from ports to industrial facilities, have been struck which may be leaking toxic chemicals into the environment putting at risk local populations and aid workers,” added Mr. Steiner.
He said the joint UNEP/OCHA environment unit was on standby to also deal with these wider issues and had extensive expertise in the field.
Mr. Steiner added that longer term post conflict reconstruction issues would be addressed by UNEP’s Post Conflict Assessment Branch which has made assessments and formulated action plans in several post conflict situation from the Balkans through to Afghanistan and Iraq.
Notes to Editors
Letters from the Charge d’Affaires of the Permanent Mission of Lebanon to the United Nations Secretary-General and the President of the Security Council dated 26 July were received at UN headquarters last week.
The letters call for help from the various UN bodies and specialized agencies to deal with the oil pollution affecting the Lebanese coast.
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