Gaza pull-out gets environmental clean bill of health
New UNEP report on the Gaza Strip provides important lessons for possible further Israeli disengagements in the West Bank
JERUSALEM, 30 March, 2006 – The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has revealed the results of the first major investigation into the environmental impact of the Israeli disengagement from Gaza last year. By and large, the UNEP scientific assessment report gives the Gaza pull-out an environmental clean bill of health.
The release of the report and the lessons it draws are given an added significance coming just days after this week’s Israeli elections. “Any further Israeli pull-outs from the West Bank now have an important ecological benchmark by which they can be judged”, said Klaus Toepfer, UNEP Executive Director.
The environmental impact of the former Israeli settlements in the Gaza strip was limited and should not constrain Palestinian land-use plans, according to the UNEP report, “Environmental Assessment of the Areas disengaged by Israel in the Gaza Strip”.
Other than some localised pollution and issues associated with asbestos, the assessment did not find contamination of water, land or buildings that poses a significant risk to the environment or public health. As long as recommendations concerned with the necessary clean-up implemented, there are no environmental constraints to Palestinian settlement in the area, the report says.
Apart from being good news for the environment, as well as possible future economic investment in Gaza, the report also demonstrates how environmental issues can be a potential bridge-building element between the Israelis and the Palestinians as they seek to find new grounds for cooperation.
“The general clean bill of health on this aspect of Gaza’s environment is welcome news for everyone concerned with the environment, long term stability and economic progress of the region,” said Mr Toepfer.
“The assessment not only provides the necessary foundation for future social and economic development in Gaza, it also demonstrates how environmental cooperation can be a positive tool in the peace process,” Toepfer continued. “This report is published at a time when intensive political discussion is underway to resolve the challenging problems in the region. It is my sincere hope that cooperation on environment can serve as a confidence building tool between the parties,” he said.
The report looks at water quality, soil/land contamination, hazardous waste, asbestos and coastal zone issues in the areas disengaged in the Gaza Strip by Israel in September 2005.
Prepared at the request of the Palestinian Authority and with the cooperation of the Israeli government, the aim of the assessment was to provide a snapshot of the environmental conditions in the former settlement areas, and to identify any areas of immediate concern before resettlement and new construction takes place.
Using satellite imagery, earlier reports and feedback from Palestinian, Israeli and international sources prior to the disengagement, UNEP scientists identified approximately 100 areas of interest including industrial buildings, waste disposal sites, agricultural plants and storage tanks.
The relevant sites were then investigated on the ground during a UNEP field mission to the former settlements in December 2005. Samples were produced in triplicate and sent to the Palestinians and Israelis, as well as an independent laboratory in the UK.
The UNEP report provides preliminary recommendations for local solutions to tackle some of the identified environmental problems such as the clean-up of oil spillages.
At the Erez Industrial Estate, the site of most of the soil pollution, the report recommends a detailed assessment of the affected area followed by clean-up of the contaminated sites, including cleaning of spilled oil, and its proper disposal, from an extensively damaged power generation plant.
The removal and disposal of rubble remains a major activity to be undertaken prior to large-scale resettlement in the areas concerned. During this period, issues associated with asbestos need to be handled carefully so as not to expose workers to unnecessary harm, says the UNEP report. The same is the case with the refurbishment of buildings which also may contain asbestos material.
UNEP is working closely with the United Nations Development Programme / Programme of Assistance to the Palestinian People (UNDP/PAPP), which has been entrusted by the Government of Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the Office of the Special Envoy for the Quartet, Mr James Wolfensohn, to carry out the task of clearing and recycling the more than 1.2 million tons of rubble produced by the destruction of the settlements in the Gaza strip.
Other than contaminated soil and asbestos, the assessment did not identify major sources of hazardous wastes in the region. It did, however, locate a number of unlined dumpsites, mostly receiving household and agricultural wastes, sometimes in old quarries. The report recommends that these areas are delineated on the land-use map restricting their use and further site specific investigation and risk assessment undertaken to decide upon the final plan for each of the identified dumpsites.
It is hoped that the information generated by the assessment will be used for longer-term planning of various resource uses, including land use planning, agricultural use and solid waste management systems.
UNEP will be providing all the information gathered in a web-based information system to the Palestinian Authority, and is preparing to assist further on priority issues like clean-up activities, training on asbestos removal and the development of relevant environmental management plans.
The UNEP assessment in Gaza was financially supported by the governments of Switzerland and Sweden.
Notes to Editors
For broadcasters a B-roll footage taken during the Gaza field work is also available.
For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, on Tel: +254 20 762 3084, Mobile: +254 733 632755 or when traveling: +41 79 596 5737, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. If there is no prompt response, contact Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Media Officer, on Tel: +254 20 762 3088, Mobile: +254 720 173968, e-mail: email@example.com.
UNEP News Release
Governments Back Environmental Rescue Plan for the Occupied Palestinian Territories
UNEP's Governing Council 3 to 7 February: Environment for Development
Nairobi, 7 February 2003 - Action to improve the environment of the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) was given the go-ahead today by governments, in an historic decision that it is hoped will benefit the people on both sides of the conflict.
Environment ministers from across the world, attending the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, Kenya, unanimously endorsed a desk report on the environmental situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.
It was compiled at the request of governments by the organization's Post Conflict Assessment Unit.
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.
Klaus Toepfer, UNEP's Executive Director said: " It has been the clear assessment of governments from across the world that the environmental situation in the Occupied Palestinian Territories is real cause for concern. It is also their wish that UNEP works with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to remedy this".
"Our main hope for the region is that the conflict can be resolved and the suffering brought to an end. Environmental cooperation can be a tool in the peace process. Governments have asked us 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. We are ready to do this," he said.
"The report and the recommendations, endorsed today, could not have been possible without the cooperation of Israel and the Palestinian Authority. I would like to pay tribute to both sides in achieving this outcome. UNEP looks forward to working with them on implementing the recommendations and the decision of our Governing Council," said Mr Toepfer.
Governments asked UNEP to prepare a report on the environment of the Occupied Palestinian Territories at the Global Ministerial Environment forum held in Cartagena, Colombia, in February 2002.
Mr Toepfer visited the region in July last year and the study team, under the chair of Pekka Haavisto, the former Finnish Minister of Environment and Development Cooperation, carried out a mission to the region in October last year.
The report states: " The alarming, conflict-related environmental problems are adding to existing pressures on the environment, which include population pressures coupled with scarcity of land, weak environmental infrastructure, inadequate resources for environmental management, and global environmental trends such as desertification and climate change".
The Governing Council decision acknowledges the report's conclusions by stating that it is "gravely concerned over the continuing deterioration and destruction of the environment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories" and "requests the Executive Director, within the mandate of UNEP, to implement recommendations of the desk study".
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 Palestestinian Territories".
The recommendations include revitalizing and reactivating existing environmental agreements such as the Joint Environmental Experts Committee established by the Oslo agreements of the1990s. The committee should identify environmental hot spots affecting both sides, and " recommend and plan realistic remedial actions with a clear schedule".
Updating the Palestinian Authority's National Environment Action Plan and support from the international community for implementing it should be a priority.
Other recommendations include implementing water saving strategies for industry, households and agriculture; water modeling of the Gaza aquifer; repair of cess-pits to reduce contamination of underground water supplies; construction of waste-water treatment plants; the establishment of regional solid waste authorities; strenghtened cooperation to protect the Dead Sea including the possibility of making it a World Heritage Site; action to immediately stop the hunting of migratory birds along the Gaza coastline and an intensification of efforts to conserve protected areas such as the Wadi Gaza.
UNEP News Release: 2003/11
Note to Editors
The report can be downloaded from the following link:
Desk Study in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (http://postconflict.unep.ch/publications/INF-31-WebOPT.pdf
Report of the Executive Director to the 22nd session of the UNEP Governing Council (http://www.unep.org/GoverningBodies/GC22/Document/K0360218.pdf)
For More Information Please Contact Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 2 623292, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 682656, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, on Tel: 254 2 623084, Mobile: 254 (0) 733 632755, E-mail: email@example.com