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Palestine | International

Lebanese Volunteers Clean Oil-stained Beaches
by IOL (reposted)
Thursday Aug 17th, 2006 10:51 AM
BEIRUT — A few days after the fighting ended, hundreds of young Lebanese were busy volunteering to rebuild their country and clean up the mess created by the33 -day Israeli war.
"We're trying to move as much sand as possible today and tomorrow so we'll know how many days it will take" to clean Ramlet el-Bayda beach, Nina Jamal of the Lebanese environmental group Green Line told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Thursday, August 17 .

Armed only with shovels and plastic buckets, a few dozen volunteers struggled to scrape oil-stained sand off the beach as environmental groups began the monumental task of cleaning up tons of oil spilt across Lebanon's coast.

"This is the biggest environmental disaster in the Mediterranean basin, we can say that very easily," said Green Line's Wael Hmaidan before rushing off to a meeting with government officials.

Nearly15 , 000tons of heavy fuel oil spilled onto Lebanon's coast after Israel bombed Jiyyeh power station,50 kilometers south of Beirut, causing the biggest ecological crisis in the country's history.

This has polluted some 140 kilometers ( 90miles) of the Lebanese coast and spread north into Syrian waters, according to the UN Environment Program.

The spill will cost at least $ 100million to clean up, the environment ministry estimates.

Daunting Task

Young men and women working on the beach gathered oil-soaked debris into small piles while others tried to dig up sand that had been transformed into a thick, noxious gum by the spill.

Others deployed oil booms in a bid to keep the pollution from washing back into the sea.

The one-kilometer (half mile) beach has been fouled by a vast black smear that has stained the sand dozens of meters inland and blackened stone breakwaters on either end of Ramlet el-Bayda.

More shocking, volunteers discovered that the pollution has reached nearly a half-meter into the beach.

A hole dug near the waterline revealed at least five bands of thick fuel oil sandwiched between the sand like a toxic layer cake.

"It makes it much harder to clean -- every time a wave comes in it pushes the pollution deeper into the sand," Jamal said.

"We've seen dead fish, dead crabs. The oil is more than one meter deep in some places and we've seen rocks so covered that they look like they've been painted black," she said.

"It will be no less than six years before it gets back to normal."

Jamal regretted that bureaucracy was hamstringing their efforts.