Press releases

Tuesday 30 Mar 2004

Throw away society new threat to island paradises

Urgent international assistance is needed to help small island states deal with a rising tide of rubbish and wastes. Studies by UNEP indicate that along with issues including rising sea levels, over-fishing, water shortages and inadequate sanitation services, waste is fast becoming another key problem.

8th Special Session of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme and the Global Ministerial Environment Forum 29 to 31 March 2004

Jeju/Nairobi, 30 March 2004 – Urgent international assistance is needed to help small island states deal with a rising tide of rubbish and wastes.

Studies by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) indicate that along with issues including rising sea levels, over-fishing, water shortages and inadequate sanitation services, waste is fast becoming another key problem.

The Pacific island of Nauru, for example, now has a “blue green shoreline”. But this has nothing to do with it being next to a beautiful azure sea.

The colour is caused by rubbish or more specifically mounds of discarded Fosters and Victoria beer cans.

The wastes not only threaten public health but also livelihoods. Many small island developing states (SIDS) are dependent on income from tourists.

Visitors are likely to be less inclined to return to an island or recommend it to friends if the landscape, shoreline and coastal waters are littered with plastics, old cans, discarded sofas and other industrial and household rubbish.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said: “Small islands across the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and the Pacific are some of the most vulnerable nations on Earth. For example they are threatened by global warming in the guise of more extreme weather events and rising sea levels and their water supplies are often restricted. Many are also found in remote locations and have limited natural resources which in turn makes them economically vulnerable”.

“Handling solid wastes from industry, households and tourism is emerging as another issue with which they need advice and help. Such wastes are not only unsightly and a threat to wildlife, they can also contaminate rivers and ground waters as they slowly degrade,“ he said.

Mr Toepfer said UNEP, in collaboration with other United Nations agencies and waste institutions, has been assisting SIDS to prepare waste minimization plans, draw up directories of environmentally sound waste management technologies and promote cleaner production techniques that generate less pollution.

“However, we need to do much more right across the range of wastes if we are to ensure a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for the citizens of small island developing states,” he added.

Jagdish Koonjul, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) who is from Mauritius, said: “We urgently need access to effective and affordable technologies including recycling equipment before this issue of wastes becomes critical. It is a cry for technology transfer”.

“Many small island developing states, including my own country of Mauritius, have launched public awareness campaigns and the people have responded. But the fact remains that unless you have ways of re-using and recycling rubbish, it is difficult to know what to do with materials such as plastics including plastic bags, aluminum and paper,” he added.

The reports, some of which were released today at an international gathering of environment ministers taking place in Jeju, the Republic of Korea, have been compiled by UNEP’s Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities or GPA and UNEP’s Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA).

One, a booklet called UNEP and Small Island Developing States: 1994-2004 and Future Perspectives, estimates that since the early 1990s the levels of plastic wastes on small island developing states (SIDS) has increased five fold.  It points out that problems of rubbish and litter are part of a wider waste crisis.

For example, 90 per cent of waste-water is discharged untreated from islands in the Caribbean. In parts of the north-east Pacific, the level of untreated sewage is 98 per cent.

The new reports will be formally presented to ministers attending a key SIDS conference, called Barbados Plus Ten, taking place on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius later in the year.

The Pacific Islands
Litter is described as a “universal problem amongst all the islands” in the region.

“Pollution of water supplies is potentially region-wide, due to inadequate treatment of domestic waste water and inadequate solid waste disposal,” says one GIWA report.

“A short walk along any coastline close to human habitation in the Pacific Islands will reveal many example of inappropriate waste disposal, even in areas where there is a municipal collection system such as the city of Suva (Fiji),” says the report.

It says that creeks running into Apia harbour in Samoa are “heavily choked with domestic rubbish adjacent to people’s homes and the roadway”.

The report says that despite annual clean ups on islands, social attitudes appear to be unchanging with the same amount of rubbish and wastes quickly piling up.

“Inappropriate solid waste disposal places a burden on the availability of land which is acute in small islands,” it adds.

Indian Ocean Islands

Another report by GIWA says that “the most critical issue for the States in the region is the growing problem of solid wastes”.

Both Mauritius and the Seychelles have developed organized waste management schemes. Nevertheless, both these countries still have significant problems.

In the Comoros, collection and disposal of wastes is “virtually non-existent and are often found scattered throughout the city and in both public and village areas”.

In Madagascar, only six per cent of rubbish and wastes are routinely collected. Over half of the population dispose of their wastes “anywhere convenient” including on or near beaches and in mangrove swamps.

The levels of rubbish in the capital Antananarivo alone are estimated to be 65,700 tonnes.

A growing problem is the dumping of wastes at sea which adds to marine debris and the pollution of coastlines near and far. As a result, islands such as the World Heritage Site of Aldabara which is famous for its giant tortoises, are now suffering from high levels of rubbish washed ashore.

The report argues that improper disposal of rubbish and wastes is encouraging vermin, including rats, which in turn carry diseases such as plague, scabies and other tropical diseases.

Poor disposal of wastes, especially containers, is also generating increased risk of malarial infections especially in Madagascar and the Comoros. The containers, ranging from old plastic bags to paint tins, accumulate still rain water which is an ideal breeding ground for the disease carrying insects.

Notes to Editors
UNEP’s Activities in Small Island Developing States can be found at http://www.gpa.unep.org/sids/index.html

The main Global Programme of Action web site is at http://www.gpa.unep.org/

The Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA) web site is at http://www.giwa.net/

GIWA’s Regional Assessment 45b for the Indian Ocean Islands is at www.giwa.net/areas/reports.php and its Regional Assessment 62 for the Pacific Islands is at www.giwa.net/r62

A Caribbean Regional Assessment is nearing completion

For More Information, please contact:  Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP’s Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 20 623292, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 682656, E-mail: eric.falt@unep.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, in Jeju, Korea, on Tel: (82) 64 767 8616, Mobile: (82) 18 696 4195, E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org or Tim Higham, Regional Information Officer, UNEP, Bangkok, phone +66 2 288 2127, mob +66 9 1283803, email higham@un.org

UNEP News Release 2004/16


 

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