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Environmental Disasters Need Urgent Attention

Nairobi, 2 March 1998 - Addressing delegates at the opening session of UNEP's High-level Committee of Ministers and Officials meeting in Nairobi today, Mr. Klaus Toepfer, UNEP Executive Director, stressed the need to tackle environmental disasters such as the forest fires burning in Indonesia, and the effects of the El Nino phenomenon.

Early warning systems to alert nations of the potential conflicts over common, shared resources are needed now says UNEP's Executive Director

"It is my sincere belief that we should join together as a family to respond to this environmental catastrophe," said Mr. Toepfer. He told the meeting he would raise the forest fires issue during a visit to UN headquarters next week and at the upcoming meeting of the UN Senior Management Group, (chaired by the Secretary-General).

"Environmental disasters such as the forest fires are mirrored in many forms in many parts of the world," said Mr. Toepfer. "The United Nations must be ready to respond to these challenges promptly and effectively. It is UNEP's task to develop the capacity to sound early warnings and catalyze action within the UN system and even beyond," he said.

Expanding on this theme, Mr. Toepfer spoke of the need, now, for "early warning systems to alert nations of potential conflicts over common, shared resources." He referred specifically to the issue of global freshwater resources.

"In UNEP, we should focus our attention towards forging a regionalized Global Programme of Action on Water," said Mr. Toepfer. "This would be an innovative instrument of disarmament in hot-spots water scarcity," he said.

Mr. Toepfer's speech sets the tone for what should be three days of intensive discussion on programmatic, technical and financial issues. Describing the future financing of UNEP as a matter of great urgency and high priority, he urged governments to pay their contributions in full and as early as possible in the biennium. "If governments want UNEP to regain a high profile and do what is expected of us, they must be ready to provide predictable and growing financial resources," he said.

The new UNEP Executive Director, who is also Director-General of the United Natinos Office at Nairobi (UNON), stressed that every effort would be made to establish close cooperation and a more streamlined administration in Nairobi by addressing overlapping responsibilities and duplications. He also emphasized the importance of good communications.

-2- Mr. Toepfer noted that UNEP has achieved much in the past 25 years, but that "Five years after the Earth Summit in Rio, international commitment to the concept of sustainable development has weakened. World leaders are preoccupied with the resolution of regional conflicts as well as with certain distortions in the economy and financial markets," he said.

Telling delegates that this is one of the most important meetings of environment ministers, Mr. Toepfer said "We are faced with the challenge of bringing the concept of sustainable development back to the centre of the international political agenda. This is not an easy task and I shall need your full support."

"Of the challenges facing the world community in the next century, none will be more formidable than the attainment of a sustainable balance between economic growth, poverty reduction, social equity and the protection of the Earth's resources, commons and life-support systems," said the UNEP Executive Director.

"Let us take up the challenge" said Mr. Toepfer as he called on delegates to help "remake UNEP the environmental voice of the United Nations."

Note to Editors

The High-level Committee of Ministers and Officials was established by a decision at the nineteenth session of UNEP's Governing Council. It has the mandate to consider the international environmental agenda and to make reform and policy recommendations to the Governing Council. It also provides guidance and advice to UNEP's Executive Director.

The Committee consists of 36 members, elected from among members of the United Nations and its specialized agencies. Members serve for two years, taking into account the principle of equitable regional representation as in the composition of UNEP's Governing Council.

UNEP Home Page (Nairobi):
UNEP News Release 1998/6


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Mr. Tore J. Brevik, Director, UNEP
Information and Public Affairs
Tel: +254-2-623292, Fax: +254-2623692,

Mr. Robert Bisset, UNEP Media and
Communications Officer, IPA
Tel: +254-2-623084, Fax: +254-2-623692,

UNEP News Release 1998/3

Monday 02 Mar 1998
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