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World Bank And UNEP Sign Agreement On Persistent Organic Pollutants

Nairobi/Washington, DC, 18 May 2001 - The World Bank and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have signed an agreement that will strengthen their collaboration on the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, which was finalized last December and will be signed and adopted on 22 - 23 May of this year.

Signed by UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer and World Bank Vice President for Environment Ian Johnson, the new memorandum of understanding focuses on activities for jointly assisting countries in developing National Implementation Plans for the Convention.

The two partners will also work together to help governments build national capacity for implementing the Convention's various provisions. They will provide assistance for developing national POPs inventories and monitoring programmes, and they will support activities for eliminating or restricting the production and accidental release of POPs.

"This represents a winning partnership in the war on persistent organic pollutants," said Mr. Toepfer. "The Word Bank has an outstanding presence in countries around the world which enables it to deliver support effectively to governments, and it has a long-proven track record in managing projects. UNEP brings extensive technical expertise on POPs and the Stockholm Convention and has supported countries around the world with over 50 scientific and policy workshops on POPs in the last four years."

"We in the Bank see this partnership with UNEP as a strategic one which will strengthen both of our agencies' effectiveness in assisting our client countries," said Mr. Johnson.

UNEP and the World Bank will also be collaborating on POPs through the Global Environment Facility, which will be the Convention's interim financial mechanism. The GEF is administered by UNEP and the World Bank, together with the UN Development Programme, so today's MOU will build upon and strengthen this GEF partnership.

The Stockholm Convention sets out control measures covering the production, import, export, disposal, and use of POPs. Governments are to promote the best available technologies and practices for replacing existing POPs while preventing the development of new POPs. They will draw up national legislation and develop action plans for carrying out their commitments.

The control measures will apply to an initial list of 12 chemicals. The 12 include eight pesticides (aldrin, chlordane, DDT, dieldrin, endrin, heptachlor, mirex, and toxaphene), two industrial chemicals (PCBs and hexachlorobenzene, which is also a pesticide), and two unwanted by-products of combustion and industrial processes (dioxins and furans).

A POPs Review Committee will consider additional candidates for the POPs list on a regular basis. This will ensure that the treaty remains dynamic and responsive to new scientific findings.

Of all the pollutants released into the environment every year by human activity, POPs are among the most dangerous. They are highly toxic, causing an array of adverse effects, notably death, disease, and birth defects, among humans and animals. Specific effects can include cancer, allergies and hypersensitivity, damage to the central and peripheral nervous systems, reproductive disorders, and disruption of the immune system.

These highly stable compounds can last for years or decades before breaking down. They circulate globally through a process known as the "grasshopper effect". POPs released in one part of the world can, through a repeated (and often seasonal) process of evaporation, deposit, evaporation, deposit, be transported through the atmosphere to regions far away from the original source.

In addition, POPs concentrate in living organisms through another process called bioaccumulation. Though not soluble in water, POPs are readily absorbed in fatty tissue, where concentrations can become magnified by up to 70,000 times the background levels. Fish, predatory birds, mammals, and humans are high up the food chain and so absorb the greatest concentrations. When they travel, the POPs travel with them. As a result of these two processes, POPs can be found in people and animals living in regions such as the Arctic, thousands of kilometers from any major POPs source.

Fortunately, there are alternatives to most POPs. The problem is that high costs, a lack of public awareness, and the absence of appropriate infrastructure and technology often prevent their adoption. Solutions must be tailored to the specific properties and uses of each chemical, as well as to each country's climatic and socio-economic conditions.

Note to journalists: For more information, please visit Interviews can be arranged through Michael Williams of UNEP at +41-22-9178242, +41-79-4091528 (cell) or michael.williams at In Nairobi, please contact: Tore J. Brevik, UNEP Spokesman/Director, Communications and Public Information, P.O. Box 30552; tel.: 254-2 623292; fax: 623692; email:

UNEP News Release 01/53

Friday 18 May 2001
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