Mr Toepfer said: "Armed conflict, which has been waged in Afghanistan for at least 20 years, can lead to environmental degradation in areas such as freshwater, sanitation, forests and soil quality".
In a statement, issued in the wake of the United Nations-sponsored talks on Afghanistan which ended in Bonn, Germany, this week, he called for those involved to consider the need for a thorough environmental assessment of the country.
"A healthy environment is a prerequisite for sound and sustainable development. People cannot secure real and sustainable economic development, against a background of contaminated water, polluted land and marginalised, natural, resources," he said.
Mr Toepfer said it was vital that the humanitarian needs of the Afghan people are first secured and that an interim government is in place. But added that UNEP stood ready to assist in the rehabilitation and reconstruction phase to come.
"Focussed consideration must soon be given to the environmental impacts of the current and previous wars. There is also a need to assess the environmental impact from mass migration both within the country and into neighbouring ones. UNEP's recently established, Post-Conflict Assessment Unit, based in Geneva can extend their work to Afghanistan. This work was pioneered in the Balkans following the Kosovo conflict," he said.
UNEP has worked and cooperated with the United Nations Office for Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) who are already operating in the region. It believes that the two organizations could be in the forefront of efforts to mobilize the resources and administration needed to tackle environmental questions in Afghanistan.
Mr Toepfer said the first action was to dispatch a mission to the region to pin point those areas in Afghanistan where environmental degradation has occurred and where a more in-depth assessment is needed. This would build on current desk-top studies that are being carried out by UNEP in consultation with other UN agencies and environmental organizations.
It is hoped that the findings from the on the ground mission will in turn give the international community a clear picture of where clean up and other actions aimed at restoring the Afghan environment are needed.
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UNEP News Release 01/118