War is eco-hell says UN

While a major oil spill might have been the most obvious environmental disaster to come out of the brief exchange of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah last summer, its impact on the region was just the tip of the iceberg according to the UN.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has published a report showing that the legacy of the Lebanese conflict includes damaged water infrastructure, a mountain of demolition waste and agricultural land strewn with mines.

Many of the factories and other industrial facilities which were burnt or bombed out during the conflict are also contaminated with toxic materials which are harming the environment and public health.

Ironically, the marine environment, which became the public face of the environmental catastrophe challenging the country after images of the oil spill were beamed around the world, has fared better as it became the focus of an internationally-backed clean-up.

According to the UN’s Post Conflict Environmental Assessment urgent action should be taken to remove hazardous detritus and chemicals leaked from industrial sources and munitions which threaten to contaminate the water supply and damage the Lebanese people.

Existing waste management systems and facilities cannot cope with the volume of material which needs to be processed and safe disposal represents a serious environmental challenge.

The outdated water supply network in southern Lebanon had been undergoing a much needed upgrade when hostilities erupted but has now been wrecked by bombing and subsequent neglect.

Huge swathes of farmland have become no-go areas as they are littered with mines and unexploded cluster bombs.

Farmers’ inability to work to their land will have a huge economic impact as well as the environmental problems associated with abandoned munitions.

The slight silver lining is that, despite media reports to the contrary, the UN team could find no evidence that depleted uranium weaponry was used by the Israeli forces, with all missile impact sites tested showing no traces of the 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,” said Adam Steiner, UN Under Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director.

“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.”

Sam Bond

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie