Nairobi, 7 February 2003 - Action to improve the environment of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) was given the go-ahead today by governments, in an historic decision that it is hoped will benefit the people on both sides of the conflict.
Environment ministers from across the world, attending the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya, unanimously endorsed a desk report on the environmental situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
It was compiled at the request of governments by the organization's Post Conflict Assessment Unit.
Today's decision also backed a package of over 130 recommendations aimed at improving a wide range of environmental issues in the territories including water supplies, the disposal of wastes, land degradation and the threats to wildlife and habitats.
Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director said: " It has been the clear assessment of governments from across the world that the environmental situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is real cause for concern. It is also their wish that UNEP works with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to remedy this".
"Our main hope for the region is that the conflict can be resolved and the suffering brought to an end. Environmental cooperation can be a tool in the peace process. Governments have asked us to act as an impartial moderator, when requested by both parties, to assist in solving urgent environmental problems with a view to achieving common goals. We are ready to do this," he said.
"The report and the recommendations, endorsed today, could not have been possible without the cooperation of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. I would like to pay tribute to both sides in achieving this outcome. UNEP looks forward to working with them on implementing the recommendations and the decision of our Governing Council," said Mr Toepfer.
Governments asked UNEP to prepare a report on the environment of the Occupied Palestinian Territories at the Global Ministerial Environment forum held in Cartagena, Colombia, in February 2002.
Mr Toepfer visited the region in July last year and the study team, under the chair of Pekka Haavisto, the former Finnish Minister of Environment and Development Cooperation, carried out a mission to the region in October last year.
The report states: " The alarming, conflict-related environmental problems are adding to existing pressures on the environment, which include population pressures coupled with scarcity of land, weak environmental infrastructure, inadequate resources for environmental management, and global environmental trends such as desertification and climate change".
The Governing Council decision acknowledges the report's conclusions by stating that it is "gravely concerned over the continuing deterioration and destruction of the environment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories" and "requests the Executive Director, within the mandate of UNEP, to implement recommendations of the desk study".
It calls upon governments and international organizations to "support the rehabilitation of the environment and reconstruction of damaged environmental infrastructure, and thus to assist the environmental authorities concerned in their efforts to address urgent environmental needs in the Occupied Palestestinian Territories".
The recommendations include revitalizing and reactivating existing environmental agreements such as the Joint Environmental Experts Committee established by the Oslo agreements of the1990s. The committee should identify environmental hot spots affecting both sides, and "recommend and plan realistic remedial actions with a clear schedule".
Updating the Palestinian Authority's National Environment Action Plan and support from the international community for implementing it should be a priority.
Other recommendations include implementing water saving strategies for industry, households and agriculture; water modeling of the Gaza aquifer; repair of cess-pits to reduce contamination of underground water supplies; construction of waste-water treatment plants; the establishment of regional solid waste authorities; strenghtened cooperation to protect the Dead Sea including the possibility of making it a World Heritage Site; action to immediately stop the hunting of migratory birds along the Gaza coastline and an intensification of efforts to conserve protected areas such as the Wadi Gaza.
Notes to Editors: The desk study and today's GC decision on the Environment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is available at www.unep.org
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UNEP News Release: 2003/11