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Tonnes of dead fish have washed up on the banks of a lake on Lebanon's Litani river, engulfing a nearby village in a pungent smell, in a disaster blamed on polluted waters.

Volunteers collected rotting fish carcasses near the Qaraoun lake on Lebanon's longest river, the Litani, where activists have warned for years of water pollution caused by sewage and waste.

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Piles of garbage drifted in the lake near the dead fish. Swarms of flies spread near the reservoir and thousands of fish were decomposing in already dirty waters.

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"This phenomenon appeared on the shore of the lake several days ago," said Ahmad Askar, a local activist. "The fish started floating up, and in abnormal quantities...It's unacceptable."

At least 40 tonnes have turned up dead in a few days, numbers which Askar and fishermen in Qaraoun described as unprecedented. They called on the Litani river authority to find the cause and go after anyone dumping wastewater into the lake.

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The river authority said this week that the fish were toxic and carried a virus, urging people to avoid fishing all along the Litani due to "an aggravated disaster that threatens public health".

The pollution prompted a ban since 2018 on fishing in the reservoir, which was created in 1959 with a large dam to collect water for hydropower and irrigation.

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Last month, volunteers removed clumps of sticky tar from some beaches along the Lebanese coast after an oil spill which environmentalists warned would harm marine life.

Ecological disasters are the last thing Lebanon needs as it suffers through an alarming financial collapse and the aftermath of a huge explosion that devastated Beirut port last August.

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