Gaza Strip/Nairobi, 21 April 2009 - The United Nations Environment head today visited the Gaza Strip in advance of an international mission to assess the impact of the recent conflict on the environmental infrastructure of the region.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) has been meeting with senior Palestinian officials and UN staff to hear at first hand their concerns and learn of key environmental challenges and priorities for rehabilitation.
He emphasized that an assessment of the environmental damage was a priority for UNEP and an important step in repairing some of the threats to the environment that were exacerbated by the conflict in January this year.
Mr Steiner also emphasized that the environmental damage which has led to increased discharge of raw sewage into ground water supplies and the Mediterranean Sea posed a challenge to authorities and the public in Gaza and potentially Israel.
Mr Steiner said: "I have requested UNEP's Post Conflict and Disaster Management Branch to deploy a team of experts to the Gaza Strip by the second week of May to carry out the assessment. The experts have extensive experience in assessing the environmental impact of conflict in the Balkans, Afghanistan, Sudan and the Middle East and in making key recommendations for action."
"I look forward to receiving rapid and clear recommendations emanating from the May assessment. This will inform local planning and assist the planned reconstruction by the international community. The UNEP team's findings will be based on systematic field work, independent laboratory analysis and scientific rigour," he added.
The environmental assessment was formally requested by a decision of UNEP's Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum, at a gathering of the world's environment ministers at the organization's headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya in February.
The forthcoming environmental assessment, involving up to eight leading UNEP and international independent experts in areas of water and waste water management, asbestos and hazardous wastes monitoring, coastal and marine environmental assessment and institutional and economic evaluation. Their work will follow on from the initial work done by UNEP as part of the UNDP led early recovery needs assessment and the assessments undertaken by other UN and international agencies since the conflict.
It identified several areas in need of further, more extensive, investigation following the recent conflict between December 2008 and January 2009 including:
Solid Waste Management
The recent conflict 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 quantity of solid waste, within such a short time, has overloaded the already inadequate infrastructure.
Waste Water Management
The Gaza Strip lacked an adequate sewerage system prior to the most recent conflict and damage of the existing sewerage infrastructure further aggravated an already serious public health situation. Detailed analysis of the impact on ground water will be required.
Management of Contaminated Land
Small-scale industries, such as factories, cement works and garages were struck during the conflict. This has created numerous potentially contaminated sites within the urban environment.
Once the extent of the physical damage is assessed, and the measures required for their rehabilitation are identified, the economic cost of the damage resulting from the latest conflict will be assessed by the UNEP team.
Laboratory results from the 10 day-assessment mission in May are expected by early June with a report and recommendations anticipated in early July.
Notes to Editors
A few days following the cease-fire in January 2009, a UNEP expert was deployed to the Gaza Strip to make an initial assessment of the environmental impacts as part of the UNDP-led Early Recovery and Reconstruction Assessment. The findings of the initial assessment were used at the Donors Conference in Sharm el-Sheikh on 2 March 2009.
UNEP has previously undertaken two major studies within the Gaza Strip, the first being the report entitled "The Environmental Situation in Occupied Palestinian Territories" (February 2003).
The study involved site visits, interviews and desk-studies by a team of international and national experts within the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, and resulted in a comprehensive document with 136 recommendations for follow-up activities.
The second report was initiated in 2005, following the Israeli disengagement from the Gaza Strip, when UNEP was approached by the Palestinian Environment Quality Authority (EQA) to conduct a Post Disengagement Environmental Assessment.
Accordingly, UNEP deployed a team of UNEP staff members and international experts, using state of the art field monitoring and sampling equipment. This study involved the collection and laboratory analysis of numerous soil, sediment, water and plant samples to supplement field observations and findings. The report was published in March 2006.
For more information please contact: Conal Urquhart, External Relations Advisor for UNDP, +972 (0) 548 176 749 who is assisting Mr Steiner on his visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
Or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media, on Tel: +254 733 632755 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org