Lebanon News

Lebanese waters severely contaminated: study

Boys jump into the water in the southern port city of Sidon. (The Daily Star/Mohammed Zaatari)

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s waters are severely contaminated, according to the findings of a seven-year research project that was conducted by the National Council of Scientific Research in Lebanon (CNRS-L) and funded by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation. Gathering Monday on the CANA-CNRS vessel – the boat used to conduct the bulk of the research – experts concluded that pollution poses a great risk to Lebanon’s sea life.

“Our seas are filled with chemical and bacterial pollution. The latter can be reduced easily but the former can affect our waters for generations,” said Dr. Gaby Khalaf, the director of the marine center at CNRS-L.

Attending the gathering was the Italian Ambassador to Lebanon Massimo Marotti and the Secretary-General of the CNRS-L Professor Mouin Hamze. The IMFAIC provided a grant of 2.3 million euros ($2.5 million) to CANA-CNRS to purchase the equipment necessary to carry out the study, which has established reliable data for policy makers to consider.

“Studying the sea gives Lebanon the possibility to better manage the resources at its disposal but also to identify sensitive or critical situations which need to be tackled to protect the ecosystem and to guarantee a better environment to future generations,” Marotti said during the event.

The CNRS-L National Center for Marine Sciences performed regular measurements of chemical contamination levels along the Lebanese coast. Their findings revealed that Beirut River and Tripoli’s port are two of the most contaminated zones. And with 70 percent of the economy concentrated in the coastal regions of the country, such acute pollution has the potential to drastically affect the livelihoods and health of many local residents. The death of marine life could particularly push hundreds of anglers further from the coast.

“In a country like Lebanon, it’s not easy to request that businesses and investors consider the impact of their operations on our environment,” Hamze told The Daily Star. “We need a national plan to combat the contamination.”

While the implementation of a national plan appears unlikely considering all the other issues the country is facing, the CANA-CNRS project has at least offered an enormous opportunity for Lebanon to highlight the major source of toxins that have polluted the sea.

One of the primary sources of pollution comes from the heavily industrialized district of Dora, where the sewage system often releases bacterial residue into the water. The district also hosts numerous toxic plant sites that produce chemical sediments such as mercury and lead.

Teodoro Mhano, an Italian member of the CANA-CNRS steering committee, said Lebanon was only one of many countries struggling to address the impact of sea pollution on an administrative level. “All countries located on the Mediterranean have an important role to play to take care of our sea,” Mhano said. “The sea is just as important as the land for our health and prosperity.”

In any case, Lebanon’s garbage crisis has compounded the challenge, and concern, for water experts and ministers alike. Heavy rains Sunday washed up some of Beirut’s lingering trash into the sea, worrying many about the potential health risks it could generate. “What happened yesterday [Sunday] was catastrophic,” Hamze said. “There are 27 countries sharing our Mediterranean and we’re affecting everyone. If we don’t manage our waste then it could affect our relations with these countries.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 27, 2015, on page 4.

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