ENVIRONMENTAL STUDY OF OCCUPIED TERRITORIES
CARTAGENA, Colombia, 15 February (UNEP) -- A decision to assess the environmental situation in the occupied Palestinian territories has been taken at a meeting of the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), meeting this week in special session in the Colombian city of Cartagena.
There are concerns about pollution of water, dumping of wastes, loss of natural vegetation and pollution of coastal waters.
As a first step, Israel and the Palestinian Authority have invited Klaus Töpfer, UNEP´s Executive Director, to visit the area.
UNEP experts are also to be mobilized to carry out a "desk study" of the area. Their findings will be used to pinpoint environmental hot spots that require, where necessary, on-the-ground studies to establish their likely effects on the environment.
It is planned to make recommendations on how areas of environmental concern can be improved, such as the appropriate clean-up and disposal operations for wastes, for the benefit of all the peoples in the area. The decision also calls for existing agreements in the area to be implemented.
Mr. Töpfer said: "I am delighted that we managed to secure this important decision. I pay tribute to the countries that 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 added.
Yousef 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. If we are to live together on this piece of land, 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 good will 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 UNEP Governing Council 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", she said.
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