UN agency to assess environmental damage in Gaza

21 April 2009
UNEP's Post Conflict and Disaster Management Branch to assess the impact of the recent conflict on the environment in the Gaza Strip

Increased discharge of raw sewage and other environmental effects of the recent combat in Gaza will be focus of an assessment announced today by the head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Increased discharge of raw sewage and other environmental effects of the recent combat in Gaza will be focus of an assessment announced today by the head of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner, currently on a visit to the Gaza Strip, said he requested the agency’s Post Conflict and Disaster Management Branch to deploy a team of experts to the devastated territory by mid-May to carry out the survey.

“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,” Mr. Steiner said.

“The UNEP team’s findings will be based on systematic field work, independent laboratory analysis and scientific rigour,” he added.

The experts chosen 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.

At least 1,300 Palestinians were killed and some 5,300 were injured in the offensive launched by Israel in late 2008 with the stated aim of ending rocket attacks by Hamas and other groups. The heavy bombardment and fighting also reduced buildings and other infrastructure to rubble.

During his visit, Mr. Steiner has been meeting with senior Palestinian officials and UN staff to hear first hand their concerns and learn of key environmental challenges and priorities for rehabilitation.

He emphasized that the infrastructure damage that led to increased discharge of raw sewage into ground water supplies and the Mediterranean Sea posed a challenge to authorities and threatened public health in Gaza and potentially in Israel.

Initial assessments by UNEP as part of an early-recovery initiative by the UN Development Programme (UNDP) and other such studies have also flagged building demolition waste and contaminated land as issues of environmental concern, among others.

Once the extent of the physical damage is determined and the measures required for their rehabilitation are identified, the cost of the damage resulting from the latest conflict will be calculated by the team, UNEP said.

Laboratory results from the 10-day assessment mission in May are expected by early June with a report and recommendations anticipated in early July, the agency added.

The assessment was formally requested by a decision of UNEP’s Governing Council and a gathering of the world’s environment ministers at the organization’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya in February, Mr. Steiner said.

 

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