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UNEP Backs Response To Lebanon Oil Slick Emergency


New York, Jul 31 2006 10:00AM

The head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has expressed grave concern over the environmental situation unfolding in the waters off of Lebanon, where an oil slick, caused by Israeli bombardment, is now reported to be affecting vast stretches of the Lebanese coastline and threatening the Syrian one as well.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said requests for assistance from the Government of Lebanon were being responded to by the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Center for the Mediterranean Sea, which is administered by the UN International Maritime Organization (IMO) and forms part UNEP’s Regional Seas Network.

The Center is giving advice to the Lebanese Ministry of the Environment on how to tackle the heavy fuel oil slick and has requested assistance for equipment and personnel from States parties to the Barcelona Convention, the regional Mediterranean environment treaty.

Several countries have already responded positively, UNEP reported.

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, according to the agency.

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 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,” said Mr. Steiner. The oil slick followed Israel’s destruction of the Jiyyeh power utility 30 kilometres south of Beirut.

“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,” he added, drawing attention to the need to monitor impacts on the marine environment, “including the biodiversity upon which so many people depend for their livelihoods and living via tourism and fishing.”

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.

“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,” he observed.

Mr. Steiner added that longer-term reconstruction issues would be addressed by UNEP’s Post Conflict Assessment Branch, which has helped to formulate action plans in several other war-torn areas, from the Balkans to Afghanistan and Iraq.

2006-07-31 00:00:00.000

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