As we write this, potentially thousands of tons of oil are on their way to blanket the east coast of Cyprus, with some of it already reaching Dipkarpaz/Rizokarpaso, irreversibly damaging the sensitive marine and coastal ecosystems of that region. While we are monitoring the situation as it develops, several facts are clear.
First, the spill originated at Baniyas Thermal Station, a power station in Syria that, like in Cyprus and much of the Middle East, uses oil to generate power. As details emerge, it is clear that the plant has been neglected after years of conflict/civil war in Syria.
Unfortunately, countries in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East, including Cyprus, have been prioritising conflict and the pursuit of profit at the expense of health, safety, and the environment. The fact that no country in the aforementioned region has embraced the revolutionary potential of renewables, and instead all continue burning fuel, is a testament to the vice grip that fossil fuel led economic and political interests have on countries all across this region.
Second, the administrations in the north and the south of Cyprus are once again hamstrung by the political situation on our island. While we commend the efforts to “inform” one another about developments, the COVID pandemic has demonstrated a huge lack of a coherent plan for cooperation between the two sides in the face of various crises. This became obvious over the past years with the deadly wildfires which have left behind burned land and destroyed ecosystems. Whilst Cypriot authorities have been aware of the oil spill since 26 August, plans to take action only emerged on 31 August. Even though the Republic of Cyprus has an oil spill response vessel (Alexandria) as well as other technical equipment and expertise to handle the crisis, the Turkish Cypriot administration has chosen to ask for help from Turkey. Every person in Cyprus, directly or indirectly, is dependent on our island’s sensitive ecosystems. We deserve a response that prioritises our island first, and sets political agendas aside.
Third, the extraction of and reliance on fossil fuels in the Eastern Mediterranean means that disasters like this are just waiting to happen. Even as we see oil cover our eastern sea, political elites in this country are unified behind the senseless strategy, supporting offshore drilling in those same waters. There is no such thing as a “natural” disaster anymore. Every wildfire, every drought, every square kilometer of nature destroyed, is a result of political decisions or inaction and our politicians have all been complicit in this regard. Even the “green” or the more “socialist” political parties have done nothing to advance environmentalism or socialism, but rather embraced the hydrocarbon projects, contributing to the commodification of our common sea.
Fourth, the rampant conflict and instability in our region is a recipe for climate disaster. As we have seen just this year with the worst wildfires on record, and recently when we had the worst drought in 900 years, we are going to need a coordinated and region-wide response to the climate crisis. The fact that we cannot even coordinate a response to an oil spill, a disaster which struck the same region before, means that we need to make a drastic change. This means putting aside the politics of mutually assured destruction and embracing a policy for the future, one that prioritises health and safety over the pursuit of power and profits.
We demand that the administrations on both sides of the divide rise up to the occasion and immediately coordinate a response to the Baniyas Oil Spill.
At the same time, we demand for a public commitment for the protection of our common natural heritage, with specific emergency response plans for different types of disasters (wildfires, oil spills etc), as well as a joint declaration cancelling hydrocarbon exploration projects combined with a commitment for an island wide decarbonization strategy.The post One Sea, One Struggle: Avli Statement on the Baniyas Oil Spill first appeared on AVLI.