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UN environment team completes study of Gaza conflict damages

21 May 2009 – Experts from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) have completed field work on a study of the environmental impact of the recent heavy fighting on Gaza, the agency announced today.

The team of eight UNEP experts spent 10 days in Gaza studying waste and waste water systems, the coastal and marine environment, and solid and hazardous waste management, including asbestos, and will make recommendations for rehabilitation this in the coming months.

In the coming months, it will make recommendations which “will inform local planning and assist the planned reconstruction by the international community,” UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner said last month when he announced he was dispatching the team to Gaza.

The experts inspected 32 sites to assess environmental impacts and collect samples for laboratory analysis and also collected data for an economic evaluation of the cost of rehabilitation and restoration of the environmental damage in Gaza.

Sites visited included residential areas, schools, industrial areas, sewage facilities, landfills and the coastline, where detailed sampling of water and sediments, bio-indicators, asbestos and waste water was conducted.

Samples collected on the ground will be sent to an independent international laboratory and analysed in the coming weeks.

The three-week Israeli offensive which began on 27 December, with the stated aim of ending rocket attacks by Hamas and other groups, killed at least 1,300 Palestinians and wounded some 5,300. The heavy bombardment and fighting also reduced buildings and other infrastructure to rubble.

Shortly after the conflict ended, UNEP sent a senior staff member to Gaza in late January as part of the UN Early Recovery Needs Assessment mission, which found that the fighting had created large quantities of building demolition waste, which is often contaminated with hazardous materials such as asbestos.

Even prior to this most recent conflict, Gaza did not have an appropriate system for waste segregation and disposal. Consequently, the creation of such large quantities of solid waste, within such a short time, has overloaded the already inadequate infrastructure.

During the May field mission, UNEP also ran two training workshops on handling asbestos and other hazardous substances in rubble management, and on health and safety practices for demolition and disposal of damaged buildings.

The team members have extensive experience in assessing the environmental impact of conflict in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Sudan and the Middle East, and in making recommendations for action, according to the agency. They also have expertise in water and waste water management, asbestos and hazardous wastes monitoring, and coastal and marine issues, it added.

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