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Rising Marine Pollution Threat

UN’s Environmental Agency Warns Of Rising Marine Pollution Threat From Land-Sources

New York, Oct 16 2006 1:00PM

With close to 90 per cent of Asia’s sewage discharged without treatment the region’s marine environment is increasingly stressed, threatening economically vital coastal areas, including fishery industries, the United Nations’ environmental agency warned today.

“The Asian region crystallizes the challenges and opportunities facing the global community trying to balance economic development and poverty eradication with social and environmental factors,” noted an official of the UN’s Environment Programme (UNEP), at an international conference to combat marine pollution that opened today in the Beijing, China.

Awareness about this challenge has never been higher and a growing number of countries – more than 60 - have developed “national programmes of action” to staunch land-based sources of marine pollution, noted the official, Veerle Vandeweerd, but at the same time “these successes are being overwhelmed by booming populations, rapid urbanization and industrialization and a range of growing pressures in the coastal zones

As a consequence “governments need to hurry up and step up action to reduce pollution from land-based sources, otherwise rapid development will come at a high price as a result of losses and damage to economically important habitats, ecosystems and marine resources from coastlines and coral reefs to mangroves and fisheries”, she warned.

Some 700 delegates from around 115 countries are attending the conference aimed at charting a new course for the Global Programme of Action (GPA) for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Sources -- a voluntary UNEP initiative.

Organizers are hoping this week’s meeting will result in commitments to more directly link management of freshwaters, including rivers and lakes, with efforts to minimize coastal-based pollution in recognition that a substantial portion of marine contamination comes from inland areas via rivers and other freshwater sources.

UNEP is also hoping for commitments towards greater cooperation and alliances between Governments and civil society, local authorities, private business and other non-governmental organizations. Although “tackling marine pollution is the primary responsibility of national Governments……it is also a responsibility of all sectors of society from private business to local authorities, said Ms. Vandeweerd, who serves as UNEP/GPA coordinator.

The ten year-old GPA can point to a range of success stories financed by increasing national commitments as well as the Global Environment Facility (GEF), a multibillion-dollar financing initiative that assists developing countries meet environmental challenges.

The GEF has invested $1.2 billion in efforts to staunch land-based pollution sources through its International Waters programme, catalyzing co-financing of a similar amount, resulting in investment funds of $400 million to protect East Asian seas; a $380 million fund for the Mediterranean and another $400 million fund covering the Black Sea and the Danube.

A major report - the "State of the Marine Environment" - compiled for Governments attending this week’s review highlight untreated sewage, soaring sediments due to rampant deforestation, increased fertilizer use, and coastal developments as among the key threats facing the region™s seas.

Sewage treatment access varies widely – from roughly 60 per cent of Japan’s population to 15 per cent in Mumbai, India, to about 6 per cent in Karachi, Pakistan.

Discharges from many big industrial plants situated along the coast is also a threat and is a “common feature” in much of South Asia, Ms. Vandeweerd.

Two thirds of the world’s total sediment transport to the oceans occurs in South and East Asia. Rampant deforestation is particularly acute in Southeast Asia and studies in the Philippines and Indonesia estimate damage to coral reefs from logging-induced sedimentation greatly exceeds the economic benefits of logging.


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