In any war, the primary focus is on dead, wounded and displaced people. The number of people killed as a result of Israel’s offensive in Lebanon at the time of this writing is reported to be roughly 800 Lebanese and 120 Israelis – not an atypical ratio for Arab-Israeli conflicts. The UN estimates the number of displaced persons to be more than a million, about 800,000 of them Lebanese.
Damage to infrastructure and the environment will also continue to be felt once hostilities cease. Of course, infrastructure can be rebuilt much more quickly than the environment can be restored or recover on its own. In the case of Lebanon, however, the two are closely linked, as much of the environmental damage comes from destroyed infrastructure.
As in most modern wars, oil spills are one of the most visible – and therefore most reported – forms of environmental damage. Until the war started, Lebanon’s beaches were among the cleanest in the Mediterranean. They are now to a large extent covered with oil. For a rare species of sea turtle this is bad news, as the eggs laid in the sand on those very beaches in the annual spawning season are due to hatch at precisely this time of the year. The total amount of oil released into the sea is now well over 100,000 tons.
Naturally, oil cisterns are not the only targets, and coastal locations are not the only regions hit. It is far too early to assess the damage done by releases of other, less visible, chemicals, but it is safe to assume that ground water will be contaminated for a long time. The drier the environment, the worse the problem.