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Governments back UN study to rescue natural resources in Palestinian territories

Governments back UN study to rescue natural resources in Palestinian territories

Spurred to action by a groundbreaking United Nations study revealing escalating environmental damage to the Occupied Palestinian Territories, governments today backed a dramatic ecological action plan they hope will benefit the region, as well as people on both sides of the conflict.

Environment ministers from across the world attending the final day of the UN Environment Programme's (UNEP) annual Governing Council, in Nairobi, Kenya, unanimously endorsed a desk report - compiled last year by the agency's Post-Conflict Assessment Unit - on the environmental situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

Calling the decision a clear assessment that global leaders wished UNEP to work with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to reverse the rapid environmental deterioration in the region, Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director, said, "Environmental cooperation can be a tool in the peace process."

Governments have asked the agency 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.

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.

Stressing that the report and the recommendations endorsed today could not have been possible without the cooperation of Israel and the Palestinian Authority, Mr. Toepfer said, "Our main hope for the region is that the conflict can be resolved and the suffering brought to an end. We are ready to do this."

The Governing Council decision acknowledges the report's conclusions that the Middle East is a "meeting point" of escalating environmental threats - particularly the case in the Palestinian Territories, where long-term environmental degradation spanning several conflicts has been exacerbated by protracted refugee situations and rapid population growth.

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 Palestinian Territories." Updating the Palestinian Authority's National Environmental Action Plan and support from the international community for implementing it should also be a priority.