Demolition Waste, Damaged Water Infrastructure and Mined Agricultural Land Legacies of the Lebanon Conflict
Marine Environment Fares Better is Good News for Tourism and Fisheries
Berlin, 23 January 2007— Serious and in some cases widespread environmental challenges are confronting the Lebanese authorities as a result of the recent conflict, a report launched today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says.
Many of the bombed and burnt out factories and industrial complexes including the Jiyeh power plant south of Beirut are contaminated with a variety of toxic and health hazardous substances.
Urgent action is needed to remove and safely dispose of such substances, which include ash and leaked chemicals amid concerns they represent a threat to water supplies and public health.
Dealing with and disposing of significant quantities of war-related debris, including health care and hospital waste represents a further and major environmental challenge.
The sheer scale of the debris is overwhelming existing municipal dump sites and waste management regimes, the team found.
The report also stresses the importance of rapidly removing unexploded cluster bombs, especially in the south of the country where large areas of economically important agricultural land have become” out of bounds” for farmers.
Wide-spread damage to Lebanon’s water supply and sewage networks also occurred as a result of the recent hostilities. Prior to the 34-day conflict, which took place between July and August 2006, the networks had been undergoing comprehensive upgrading and modernisation.
“These networks were extensively damaged in the conflict and hence present a risk of groundwater contamination and a potential public health hazard. Waste water management constitutes a major chronic environmental stress factor,” says the report, prepared by UNEP’s Post Conflict Branch.
On a more positive note, the report indicates that oil pollution to the marine environment has been largely contained and contamination levels appear to be generally typical of coastal areas of that part of the Mediterranean. This should be good news for the country’s economically important tourism and fisheries sectors.
A further positive finding, particularly in the light of various high profile media reports, come from studies in Beirut and southern Lebanon of sites struck by munitions. Detailed field tests and analysis of samples at laboratories in Europe have found no evidence that the missiles used contained depleted uranium or another kind of radioactive material.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “This post conflict assessment was carried out at the request of the Lebanese authorities following the cessation of hostilities in mid August last year”.
“The report provides a comprehensive picture of the outstanding environmental problems facing the Lebanon and its people. Some of these, like war-related debris, cluster bombs on farmland, toxic waste—the result of bomb damage and fires at industrial facilities—and the wide-spread damage to water and sewage systems require urgent remedial action.
“Others are more long-term in nature including the necessity for systematic monitoring of the health of local populations, and the environment, in certain key locations,” he said.
“There is also good news with the marine environment appearing to have largely escaped serious long term damage linked with the oil spill from the Jiyeh power plant. I can only praise the international emergency response effort-- involving the Lebanese authorities, governments in the Mediterranean and elsewhere, the European Commission, IUCN, local NGOs and the UN--, for moving as quickly as the difficult circumstances permitted to tackle the spill at the time,” said Mr Steiner.
“I sincerely hope that this study and report, generously supported by the governments of Germany, Norway and Switzerland, will have a positive and lasting impact on the lives of the Lebanese people by galvanizing the international community, including those attending a Lebanon reconstruction meeting in Paris in two days time, to factor the environment into their plans for Lebanon,” said Mr Steiner.
Highlights from the Post Conflict Assessment of the Lebanon
The conflict in Lebanon and in Israel began on 12 July 2006 and ended on 14 August with the conclusion of a ceasefire under UN Security Council Resolution 1701. Close to 1,200 people were reportedly killed and over 4,400 injured. More than 900,000 people in Lebanon fled their homes.
There was widespread destruction of roads and more than 100 bridges and overpasses. Beirut airport and seaports were bombed and an estimated 30,000 housing units destroyed or badly damaged.
The results of today’s report are based on a field assessment by 12 environmental experts carried out between late September and mid-October following a request from the Lebanese Minister of the Environment.
The team were accompanied by 15 Lebanese environment ministry staff and volunteers and a scientist from the Lebanese Atomic Energy Agency. They visited over a hundred carefully selected sites.
Samples of soil, surface and ground water, dust, ash, seawater, sediment and molluscs like oysters were collected.
These were sent twice a week to specialist laboratories in Sweden, Switzerland and the United Kingdom. Duplicate samples were made available to the Lebanese authorities.
Short, medium and long-term measures have been drawn up for each of the sites covering issues such as waste removal, decontamination and environmental monitoring.
The Jiyeh Thermal Power Plant and other Industrial Facilities
The power plant, located 30km south of Beirut, was never far from the headlines after fuel tanks were bombed in mid-July releasing as much as 15,000 tons of fuel oil into the local and marine environment. The oil spill affected 150km of the Lebanese coastline as well as parts of Syria’s coast.
The team tested soils over a five square kilometre area around the plant and detected elevated levels of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH)—petroleum products linked with a wide range of health risks.
They are recommending that people living close to the plant be subject to long-term monitoring in order to pick up any unusual health trends such as cancers and heart problems.
The team also visited numerous other industrial facilities, many of which took direct strikes and were either destroyed, badly damaged or set on fire.
These included the Al Arz Lilnasiej textile factory in the Zahleh area and the Maliban glass factory and Lamartine food factory—both in the Beqaa Valley.
The main ‘hot spot’ of concern is the Choueifat industrial area where a cluster of sites were bombed, namely Transmed warehouse, Lebanon Company for Carton Mince and Industry, El-Twait feedlot, and Beirut’s International Airport and the Ghabris detergent factory in Tyre.
The environmental legacy of conflict at many of these sites is broadly similar with environmental and health issues linked to toxic or hazardous ashes, oils, heavy metals, industrial chemicals, rubble, solid waste and sewage.
These may pose health risks to clean-up workers, local communities and at several sites have the potential to leak into water supplies unless sites are thoroughly decontaminated and the pollution contained.
Weapons including Unexploded Cluster Bombs
Large swathes of key agricultural land south of the Litani River have been affected by cluster bombs. Other areas affected include Nabatiyeh and the southern part of the Jezzine district.
Agriculture, based on crops like olive, grapes, citrus fruits and tobacco, make up 70 per cent of southern Lebanon’s economy. An estimated 90 per cent of the local population depend on agriculture.
The report says significant amounts of these agricultural lands have become inaccessible for farmers due to unexploded ordnance. “Valuable pasture lands have also been rendered out of bounds which will likely lead to overgrazing in accessible areas and habitat degradation,” says the report.
The situation is also triggering other unsustainable practises. For example farmers have been setting alight shrubs and bushes in the hope of igniting sub-munitions or “bomblets” the size of a soda or fizzy drinks can.
Experts with the UN mine clearance operation estimate that the de-mining could take up to 15 months. Agricultural land should be the priority, particularly in prime areas like olive groves and fruit orchards.
“It is also important to provide alternative livelihood support for the population of southern Lebanon so that they are able to cope in this critical interim period without undermining the natural resource base,” says the report.
While the experts confirmed the use of white phosphorus by Israeli forces, the team could not detect any contamination that would indicate the use of depleted uranium (DU) weapons or indeed ones containing “any other uranium isotope composition”.
High radioactivity reading were however detected at Yatar and linked with melted instruments from a crashed helicopter and also at the Maliban glass factory in Zahleh. Readings here were linked to high temperature bricks containing thorium.
The report recommends that further investigations be undertaken at both sites to pin point and ensure the complete removal of materials showing high radioactivity.
Meanwhile, the conflict led to the outbreak of fires and the loss of economically valuable tree species in southern Lebanon impairing the government’s fledgling reforestation programme.
The team tested sediments and oysters—natural pollution indicators-- at close to 30 sites along the Lebanese coast in order to assess the impact of the oil spill from the crippled tanks of the Jiyeh power plant.
Despite the size of the spill and visible contamination of the shoreline, the results indicate that the marine environment was largely saved from significant long-term effects.
Elevated levels were detected in the Tyre Marine park, 2.5 km south of Tyre and at Damour, around 15km south of Beirut on the coast. However the overall conclusions are that PAH levels in sediment and molluscs is in line with similar coastal areas influenced by urban areas, industry and shipping.
The emergency clean-up response by the Lebanese authorities, the international community, non-governmental organizations and local communities is praised for the speed with which it was organised and the comprehensiveness of the response.
The fuel oil was also heavy which meant that a large proportion sank rapidly to the sea bed close to the power plant. Chemical analysis of the fuel oil involved indicates that it contains relatively low levels of toxic hydrocarbons.
The report does caution that the remaining fuel oil on the seabed near the power plant should be removed in case it re-mobilizes but stresses that the main environmental concern is the safe disposal of the collected oil waste.
Notes to Editors
The Post Conflict Assessment report on the Lebanon is available for download at www.unep.org
The UNEP Post Conflict Branch has carried out assessments in several locations firstly in the Balkans and also in Afghanistan, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Iraq, Sudan, and Liberia. http://postconflict.unep.ch/
For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: +254 20 7623084, Mobile while in Germany/Europe +41 79 596 57 37, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
UNEP News Release 2007/02