From: Reuters
Published January 23, 2007 12:00 AM

Post-War Lebanon Faces Major Environmental Harm, UN Says

BERLIN -- Unexploded cluster bombs and factories contaminated with toxic chemicals after last year's conflict between Israel and Hezbollah pose major environmental risks to Lebanon, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) warned that if it fails to act quickly to remove the debris, Lebanon will face serious public health hazards, including water supply contamination.

Unexploded cluster bombs are a particular risk, especially in the south of the country where large areas of economically important agricultural land have become no-go areas for farmers.

"Valuable pasture lands have been rendered out of bounds which will likely lead to overgrazing in accessible areas and habitat degradation," says the report, adding that some 90 percent of southern Lebanon's population depends on agriculture.

De-mining could take up to 15 months, it added.

The report also recommended further investigations to check and remove highly radioactive materials in some areas.

In addition, many bomb-damaged factories, including the Jiyeh power plant south of Beirut, were contaminated with toxic substances, said the U.N.

"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," said the report.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner urged world nations, including those attending a Lebanon reconstruction meeting in Paris this week, to consider the environment in their talks.

The UNEP report was based on research carried out by 12 environmental experts last September and October.

Some 1,200 Lebanese, mostly civilians, and 157 Israelis, most of them soldiers, were killed in fighting which started in July 2006.

Source: Reuters

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