State of the Environment South Asia: Depleted

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka, January 21, 2003 (ENS) - South Asia is suffering from excessive land degradation, desertification, and habitat fragmentation, depleting the forest products that are a source of food, medicine and income for indigenous people, according to a state of the environment report issued today by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

The publication, aimed at policy makers, was released during the Special Session of the Governing Council of the South Asia Cooperative Environment Programme, which wound up today in Colombo.

UNEP Executive Director Klaus Toepfer said the State of the Environment report was designed to "provide concrete guidance for action planning, policy setting and resource allocation for policy makers and institutions in the region."

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The Red Cross is constructing a cylone and earthquake resistant semi-permanent hospital to serve the emergency medical needs of India's Kutch district. (Photo courtesy IFRC)
Institutions and policy makers must do more to integrate environmental and socio-economic factors into decision making and to ensure trade liberalization does not compromise the environment and erode natural resources, the report urges.

UNEP issued a second state of the environment report at the session, "Children of the Monsoon," which offers the youth perspective on the state of the environment this year. It was written by members of youth organizations which make up the South Asia Youth Environment Network (SAYEN), established by UNEP in Kathmandu in June 2002.

In his forward to "Children of the Monsoon," Toepfer says, "Every person can make a difference, and collectively we can make a big difference. It is up to you and your community to make choices and take actions."

"South Asia is a region that is economically poor and at the same time is also extremely rich in resources," Toepfer said. "The ancient culture, history, traditions and vast knowledge base have given its people a distinct edge in finding the solutions we are all looking for."

The South Asia State of the Environment Report identifies five key environmental issues: livelihood security, environmental disasters, industrialization, urbanization and biodiversity loss.

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A busy street in Bangkok, Thailand (Photo courtesy Global Cities Network)
In cities, freshwater supply problems are compounded by high population growth rates. "As South Asia's economies have restructured towards industrialization, energy demand has risen fast, with dependence on coal for electricity production causing air pollution problems," the report says.

Its release comes just a fortnight before UNEP's 22nd Governing Council meeting and Global Ministerial Environment Forum at UNEP Headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya which will cover an ambitious agenda of issues drawn from the outcomes of the World Summit on Sustainable Development.

Surendra Shresta, director of the UNEP Regional Resource Centre for Asia and the Pacific, speaking at the launch of the reports in Colombo today, said they had drawn from the newly published national State of the Environment reports for Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Iran, funded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation.