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United States Helping To Clean Up Munitions, Oil in Lebanon

24 August 2006

U.S. pledges funds, expertise to address threats to environment, security

Washington – The United States has promised emergency assistance to defuse unexploded mines and cluster bombs in Lebanon and to help clean up a Mediterranean oil spill – both legacies of the monthlong hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah.

The State Department’s Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement plans an initial emergency grant of $420,000 for the British charity Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to clear unexploded munitions endangering the lives of Lebanese citizens who have returned to their homes now that a cease-fire is in place, according to an August 23 State Department statement. An additional $2 million will be allocated for unexploded ordnance removal later in the year.

The State Department is helping map locations of explosive ordnance through a partnership with the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation (VVAF), the statement said. The foundation is a nongovernmental humanitarian organization that works in post-conflict situations throughout the world. Its Information Management and Mine Action Programs (iMMAP) help identify hazardous and safe transportation routes through conflict zones.

“Food and medical supplies are worthless unless they are delivered to those in need,” VVAF Vice President Joe Donahue said after an iMMAP was deployed to Lebanon in late July. “Our specialists improve the capacity of relief agencies to plot safe transportation routes to put food and supplies in people’s hands,” he said.

“Unexploded ordnance has turned into a massive problem in southern Lebanon,” said Human Rights Watch analyst Marc Garlasco. Several civilians have been killed and others injured by cluster bombs left where people are trying to rebuild their lives.

A United Nations assessment estimated that during the month of hostilities, the Israeli defense forces dropped hundreds of bombs and missiles and thousands of artillery rounds daily throughout southern Lebanon and along its border. Ground combat also left scattered munitions. A U.N. Mine Action Coordination Center team conducts controlled demolition of these munitions on a daily basis.

Land mines and abandoned munitions have posed a problem in Lebanon for 30 years, dating back to the civil war, which saw hostile activities on the part of numerous state and nonstate armed forces. Since 1998, the interagency U.S. Humanitarian Mine Action Program has contributed more than $17 million to help the Lebanese government assess high-risk areas and train and equip the Lebanese armed forces to efficiently clear unexploded ordnance and land mines.

OIL SPILL THREATENS LIVELIHOODS, ECOSYSTEM

Livelihoods and the ecosystem also have been compromised by a large oil spill along Lebanon’s coast.  In his August 21 speech pledging an additional $230 million for humanitarian relief and reconstruction in Lebanon, President Bush said, “I directed that an oil spill response team be sent to assist the Lebanese government in cleaning up an oil slick that is endangering coastal communities.”

Since an Israeli missile struck a power plant on the Lebanese coast and caused the release of an estimated 17.4 million liters of fuel oil into the Mediterranean Sea, U.S. government agencies have been gearing up to help.

“The NOAA [National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration] Office of Response and Restoration immediately responded with spill trajectory analyses, seasonal wind statistics, information on the behavior of submerged oil and general information on natural resources potentially at risk,” NOAA’s Scott Smullen told the Washington File

Currently, the State Department’s Bureau of Oceans, Environment and Science, the U.S. Coast Guard, NOAA and the U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon are working with the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP), European emergency response agencies and local Lebanese officials “to formulate a cleanup strategy and address impacts of the oil spill,” he added. The United States Agency for International Development and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency also are assisting.

Thomas Callahan, from NOAA’s Seattle office, told the Washington File, “We are ready to assist as needed.” He explained that the Regional Marine Pollution Emergency Response Center for the Mediterranean Sea has a command-and-control structure in the region with which other groups network. “We’ve been monitoring the situation and are working closely with the State Department” and other agencies, he said.

According to an August 24 State Department press release, a U.S. team of oil-spill response professionals will work with the Lebanese government to clean up the coast, training cleanup crews and providing equipment. The effort also will address long-term remediation, wildlife protection and shipping protection.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said, “We welcome this valuable assistance from the United states as a further important contribution by the international community for helping to restore the environment and livelihoods of the Lebanese people.”

(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)

 



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