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UNEP Post-Conflict & Disaster Management Branch

From Geneva to Lebanon and back

Post-conflict environmental activities by the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit and the Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch answered a number of crucial questions in Lebanon.

Data collected in post-conflict assessment adds to the global knowledge on the environmental impacts of armed hostilities.

Henrik Slotte, Chief, Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch, UNEP

The July-August 2006 conflict in Lebanon and in Israel, had a severe impact on Lebanon's civilian population. Apart from the human casualties, the infrastructure was badly damaged. In addition, heavy fuel oil spilled into the sea after the bombing of the Jiyeh power plant and contaminated approximately 150 km of Lebanese coastline and part of Syria's coast.

As part of the larger international effort to address immediate impacts of the conflict, the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit («Joint Unit») started monitoring the environment while the conflict was going on. The Joint Unit focused particularly on the effects of the oil spill and helped to coordinate international, regional and local response. The Joint Unit worked closely with the Ministry of Environment and international bodies, such as the European Union and the World Conservation Union (IUCN), to establish an Oil Spill Operations and Coordination Centre.

The Lebanese Ministry of Environment then requested UNEP to conduct a post-conflict environmental assessment. The field component was conducted from 30 September to 21 October 2006 under leadership of the Post-Conflict Branch. Having both UNEP's Post-Conflict Branch and the Joint Unit based in Geneva helped the UN to keep abreast of the humanitarian response to the conflict and coordinate efforts with the humanitarian community.

The Governments of Germany, Norway and Switzerland funded UNEP's assessment activities, which were included in the Government's National Early Recovery Plan. UNEP worked with UNDP, UNDSS (United Nations Department of Safety and Security) and UNMACC (United Nations Mine Action Coordination Centre) during the assessment. In addition the Ministry of Environment of Lebanon was an active and open partner in the assessment process, providing information and logistical support wherever required.

The UNEP team visited over 100 sites throughout the country and took close to 200 samples of soil, surface and groundwater, dust, ash, seawater, sediment and marine animals. Samples were sent twice weekly to laboratories in Europe for analysis. Duplicate samples were also made available to the Ministry of Environment for comparative analysis. Fifteen Ministry of Environment staff members and volunteers, as well as a scientist from the Lebanese Atomic Energy Agency, accompanied the UNEP assessment team in the field.

UNEP found that one of the main environmental impacts of the conflict relates to the huge amount of debris generated in the conflict. Existing waste-disposal sites became overloaded with demolition rubble and new dump sites had to be created quickly and sometimes in inappropriate locations. In addition, hazardous healthcare waste, which increased sharply as a result of conflict-related deaths and injuries, was mixed into the normal waste stream and ended up in ordinary dump sites, where it constitutes a serious risk to the health and safety of site workers and the general public.

The assessment recommends that guidelines on the safe handling and environmentally sustainable disposal and reuse of demolition debris be designed and implemented. National procedures should also be developed to ensure that hazardous healthcare waste is separately stored and disposed of with appropriate technology. Other recommendations include the remediation of localized hydrocarbon contamination of soil, long-term monitoring of ground- and surface water and the establishment of a health registry to monitor the long-term health impacts on residents of heavily bombed areas.

It was recommended that sunken oil be extracted from the seabed in the vicinity of the Jiyeh power plant to avert any danger of its remobilization. Clean-up of oil pollution along the coastline, where the oil was pushed ashore, is still continuing under leadership of the Ministry of Environment.

Finally, after visiting 32 sites with a high probability of attack with deep-penetrating munitions, particularly in southern Lebanon, the weapons team found no evidence of use of weapons containing depleted uranium, natural uranium or any other uranium isotope composition. However, the team did agree with the UN Human Rights Council's Special Rapporteurs that cluster bombs pose a significant threat to the civilian population in southern Lebanon, and are a major factor impeding the return to normal life.

The data collected has added to UNEP's collection of global knowledge on the environmental impacts of armed hostilities.

The full report is available on the Post-Conflict & Disaster Management Branch's website:

Henrik Slotte formed part of the team that established UNEP's post-conflict expertise in 1999, following the Kosovo conflict. This capacity has since grown into a permanent part of the organization. In January 2007 the mandate of the branch was extended to include UNEP's post-conflict response and disaster management activities. The branch is based in Geneva, with operations in Afghanistan, Indonesia, Lebanon, Liberia, the Maldives, Nigeria, Sri Lanka, and Sudan. Prior to joining the United Nations, Henrik Slotte worked at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland.