The oil Spill – how the Israeli war in Lebanon affected the environment

26 April 2007 | News story

On 15 August 2006 smoke from the July war bombs had still not settled, the smell of death and artillery was still congesting the air, a ceasefire was declared but remained uncertain, the blockade ongoing, and more than half of the Lebanese shoreline was soaking in black toxic oil.

The country woke up to a major “collateral damage” to deal with: an oil spill that blackened its beaches, important coastal world heritage sites and environmentally significant areas with fragile ecosystems.
One of the Lebanese hotspots that were affected by the spill is the Palm Islands Nature Reserve, a marine protected area that houses endangered fauna, flora and avifauna. The reserve counts 156 species of birds, including many migratory birds as well as the endangered loggerhead and Green marine turtles.

The oil spill resulted from an Israeli bombing of the Jiyyeh coastal power plant that took place on 13 and 15 July and spilled some 15,000 tons of toxic fuel oil and polluted 150 km of the eastern Mediterranean country’s shoreline. The spill spread northwards contaminating 150 km of the Lebanese seashore, reaching the southern Syrian coast. Affected areas are around Beirut, Tabarja, the historic town of Byblos, in Anfeh and the Palm Islands Nature Reserve off Tripoli .

The toxic oil, which is still covering rocky coasts, has killed algae and other organisms that fish and turtles feed on. Consequently, fishermen have reported decreased numbers of fish harvests compared to previous years. Oil, which has sunk to the sea bed is reappearing in the form of tar balls and is re-contaminating sandy beaches. Moreover, oiled and dead birds are still being discovered in monitored places like Palm Islands Nature Reserve.

The oil spill was described by Yaacoub Sarraf, then Environment Minister of Lebanon as “the most important environmental disaster in Lebanon’s history.” It affected major economic sectors including fishermen’s livelihoods and tourism. On 15 August, international players in environment and disaster management started landing in the country to support the government of Lebanon in addressing the problem. Experts, equipment, know-how and finances were brought to the country.

The World Conservation Union (IUCN), in close consultation with the Ministry of Environment in Lebanon, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs – the Directorate General for Development Cooperation (DGCS), and independent film maker Hady Zakkak chose to document in sound and image the oil spill and the activities that followed its occurrence. As a consequence, “The Oil Spill Documentary” was produced to highlight a victim that often goes unnoticed during times of war: the environment.

Under the High Patronage of the President of the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Environment, IUCN, DGCS and Hady Zakkak are organizing the Premiere of the film on Thursday 26 April in Centre Sofil, Empire Theaters, Ashrafieh, Lebanon. The event starts at 6:30PM. The event will be held in the presence of ministers, ambassadors, leaders of civic organizations and the general public.

While exposing the written facts and the evolution of the situation through powerful images and intervention of professionals, the documentary combines also short stories of people interacting with the catastrophe. The film presents diverse points of view on the catastrophe and reflects a human approach.
“The gallery of characters is rich in diversity , it varies from fishermen to scientists, oil spill experts and artists who converted to volunteers in oil spill clean-up” Zakkak said .

Through all these characters and short stories, the situation is revealed as time passes. The oil spill is affecting the biodiversity and important economic sectors. And even in parts of the Lebanese shoreline south of Jiyyeh, which have not been directly affected, other dangers, such as the possibility of oil arriving with to these areas as a result of changes in sea currents, are threatening the environment and the life of people and species .

The documentary gives a dynamic view of the situation and shows an interaction between civil society, the state and local and foreign experts. The links between the short stories provide the facts and figures. As in any documentary, this structure interacts with reality and with the events on the ground. The Mediterranean Sea is the center of the catastrophe. Long term effects of the war are a fact. The war on the environment is a long-time war that doesn’t end with a cessation of hostilities.

For more information, please contact Ms. Hala Kilani: hala.Kilani@iucn.org