UN to Assess Environment in Occupied Palestinian Territories

CARTAGENA, Colombia, February 15, 2002 (ENS) - Concerns about pollution of water, dumping of wastes, and loss of natural vegetation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories as well as pollution of their coastal waters has triggered a United Nations environmental assessment of the region.

The decision to undertake an assessment of the Occupied Palestinian Territories was taken today at a close of a three day meeting of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Cartagena where over 120 countries and 90 ministers gathered to map out the future direction and budgets for the world's environmental programs.

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UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer in Cartagena (Photo courtesy ENB)
As a first step, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have invited Klaus Topfer, UNEPīs executive director, to visit the area.

Toepfer said, "I am delighted that we managed to secure this important decision. I pay tribute to the countries who backed this proposal, and to the Israelis and Palestinians for their cooperation. Without their joint support, the likely success of any scientific visit to the area would be questionable."

"It is our sincere hope that our work will lead to an improvement in the environment and the quality of life for people in the area and that other wider benefits may also emerge as a result of this cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians," he said.

Toepfer has been asked to designate a team of UNEP experts to prepare "a desk study outlining the state of the environment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to identify major areas of environmental damage requiring urgent attention."

Recommendations will be made on how areas of environmental concern can be improved for the benefit of all the peoples in the area. The decision also calls for existing agreements to be implemented.

Yousef Abu Safieh, minister of environmental affairs for Palestine, said, "The build up of hazardous wastes, the contamination of shared water aquifers and other environmental damage in the Occupied Territories threatens this generation and future generations in Palestine and in Israel."

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Demolished home in Samu, Hebron District, Palestinian Occupied Territory (Photo courtesy Hebron.com)
"If we are to live together on this piece of land," he said, "we need to respect the shared natural resources here. We applaud UNEP in helping countries to reach this important decision and that the consensus of all nations was secured. This is unique in the Palestinian question."

Valerie Brachya, deputy director general of the Ministry of Environment in Israel said, "The environment is a trans-boundary issue that affects us all. The task of preserving the environment is twice as difficult during times of conflict, when goodwill is at a premium. The outbreak of violence in September 2000 abruptly halted cooperation on environmental protection issues, which had been established on the basis of signed agreements between the parties."

"The decision taken by the Governing Council at UNEP in Cartagena links scientific study of environmental issues with the implementation of existing agreements. We sincerely hope that the study will help to improve the environmental situation in the area and renew professional cooperation between the parties," Brachya said.