Press Releases

    UNEP/255
    31 December 2004

    Environmental Issues Emerging from Wreckage of Asian Tsunami;
    UN Agency Earmarks $1 Million for Needs Assessments

    (Reissued as received.)

    NAIROBI, 30 December (UNEP) -- As the Asian earthquake and tsunami death toll is now feared to be approaching 100,000 people, emergency humanitarian assistance remains the top priority, but urgent environmental concerns that threaten human health must be addressed, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said today.

    The Organization decided to create a Task Force in Geneva to coordinate all inputs from the UNEP system to identify and alleviate the environmental impacts of the disaster and to support the efforts of the affected countries and the United Nations.

    The UNEP has mobilized $1 million to respond to the immediate needs identified by the region’s governments.  “Our support echoes directly the requests from national authorities for environmental experts to assess and mitigate the urgent problems.  Therefore, we are sending experts to work with the governments and the United Nations country teams”, underlined Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP.

    The agency has also strengthened its office in Bangkok, which is responsible for activities in the Asia-Pacific region.

    “While the focus is to save lives and fight diseases, it is also important to address underlying risks, such as solid and liquid waste, industrial chemicals, sewage treatment and the salinization of drinking water.  The damage to ports and industrial infrastructure may be severe, with untold risks to human health.  Likewise, revitalizing local communities and their livelihoods will require rehabilitating and protecting vital natural ecosystems, in particular mangrove forests and coral reefs”, Mr. Toepfer said.

    He added: “UNEP is, therefore, also mobilizing its remote sensing and Geographic Information System (GIS) capacities, in collaboration with other United Nations agencies, to help identify impacts and make relevant information available to relief efforts.  All in all, a number of grave environmental concerns must be taken into account as the reconstruction plans are drawn up”.

    Several governments in the region have stressed to UNEP the importance of developing effective early-warning systems.  This issue will be high on the agenda of the International Meeting on the Sustainable Development of Small Island Developing States (SIDS), scheduled to take place in Mauritius from 10 to 14 January 2005, and at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR), scheduled to take place in Kobe, Japan, from 18 to 22 January.  The UNEP will be a main contributor to these conferences.

    Details on the Mauritius Conference can be found at http://www.un.org/smallislands2005/ and http://www.sidsmauritius2005.mu/. Details on the Kobe Conference can be found at http://www.unisdr.org/wcdr/

    Prior to the disaster, UNEP warned on 15 December that 2004 is set to go down in history books as the most expensive year for the insurance industry worldwide as a result of hurricanes, typhoons and other weather-related natural disasters. See Press Release at http://www.unep.org/NewsCentre/

    United Nations activities are coordinated by the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). More information can be found at http://ochaonline.un.org/index.asp and at http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf.

    For more information, please contact:  Eric Falt, Spokesman/Director UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information on tel.: +254-20-623292, mobile: +254-733-682.656, e-mail: eric.falt@unep.org; or Nick Nuttall, UNEP head of media, on tel.: 254 20 623084, mobile: +254-733-632755, e-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org.

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