First Time in the Arab World.
Nairobi/Beirut, 30 April 2003 – Lebanon, a country whose fabled cedar trees have been revered since the sea-faring days of the Phoenicians, will host this year’s World Environment Day (5 June), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) announced today.
It will be the first time in the 30-year history of this awareness-raising event that the main celebrations have been held in the Arab world.
This year’s theme, Water - Two Billion People are Dying for It! echoes one of the most pressing environmental issues facing the planet and its six billion citizens. The theme for World Environment Day also supports the celebration of 2003 as the International Year of Freshwater.
Rafic Hariri, Lebanon’s Prime Minister, said: “We are very honored to have been chosen as this year’s World Environment Day hosts. Over the past decade, Lebanon’s challenge has been to rebuild its infrastructure after the tragedy of the 1975 to 1990 civil war. In doing so, we have tried to rebuild a country that cherishes the environment and respects nature. We are fortunate in having a youthful population that recognizes the importance of environmental issues. I hope that, by hosting this special day, Lebanon can build on this enthusiasm in our quest for a healthier, cleaner and more equitable nation that can act as a beacon in the region and the world”.
Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations, said: “One person in six lives without regular access to safe drinking water. Over twice that number – 2.4 billion – lack access to adequate sanitation. Water-related diseases kill a child every eight seconds”.
He added that the international community had, at the Millennium Summit and the World Summit on Sustainable Development, set “measurable, time-bound commitments” to provide safe water and sanitation.
“These targets must be met and surpassed if the Millennium Development Goals of reducing child mortality, combating malaria, eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, empowering women, and improving the lives of slum dwellers are to be achieved,” said Mr Annan.
Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said: “We couldn’t be more delighted that Lebanon has agreed to host this important United Nations day in the International Year of Freshwater. West Asia, the region in which the country lies, vividly highlights the threats and challenges people across the globe face in their search for that most basic and fundamental element of life”.
“Trees, forests and water are inextricably linked. So it is fitting that a country whose national flag is the majestic cedar tree, is hosting this year’s World Environment Day celebrations,” he added.
The celebrations, to be held in Beirut and around Lebanon under the aegis of the Ministry of Environment, led by Fares Boueiz will include the presentation of UNEP’s Global 500 Awards. These are made to individuals and organizations that have made outstanding contributions to the protection and conservation of the environment. A total of eight winners will be honoured in 2003.
Freshwater in West Asia
The latest Global Environment Outlook, GEO-3, estimates that more than half the people in the world could be living in severely water-stressed areas by 2032.
West Asia, which includes the Arabian Peninsula and the Mashriq countries of Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and the Palestinian Territories, is likely to be the worst affected. Well over 90 per cent of the population are expected to be living in areas with "severe water stress" in less than 30 years unless urgent action is taken, the report concludes.
GEO-3 says rapid population growth is now, in some areas of the region, running at three per cent a year triggering water stress and scarcities in many countries. Over 80 per cent of the water used is for agriculture. Demand is outstripping supply, especially on the Arabian Peninsula where the water stress index (expressed as a percentage of the water used to available water resources) is more than 100 per cent for five of the seven countries.
Ancient, often irreplaceable, supplies of ground water are being "mined" to meet demand. In some areas an influx of seawater into underground aquifers is becoming an increasing problem. Groundwater salinity in some coastal aquifers in the Lebanon has risen from 340 milligrammes per litre to 22,000 milligrammes per litre in recent years.
Attempts to boost the efficient use of water have recently begun in several countries. Measures include support for modern irrigation systems, and quality control and management of groundwater supplies. Re-use of wastewater in the Mashriq countries has risen from zero in the early 1970s to about 51 million cubic metres a year by the early 1990s.
UNEP in West Asia
UNEP’s Regional Office for West Asia (ROWA), based in Bahrain, provides support and advice on environmental matters to 12 countries. Among other activities, ROWA is coordinating the regional component of the Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA) --which addresses water management, as well as the regional component of the Global Plan of Action for the protection of the marine environment from land-based activities (GPA).
Mr Toepfer added: “It will not be lost on billions of people around the globe, that this special day will also hold special significance by being in the Arab world so soon after the recent conflict in Iraq “. He said UNEP stood ready to assist in the humanitarian effort for the benefit of the Iraqi people and their environment.
A new report by UNEP’s Post Conflict Assessment Branch (PCoB) on environmental conditions in Iraq, published on 24 April 2003, offers a preliminary assessment of the main environmental threats facing the country and recommends actions for immediate relief and long-term recovery.
In January 2003, the unit also issued a Desk Study on the Environment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, which identified major areas of environmental damage requiring urgent action. The study was endorsed unanimously in February by UNEP’s Governing Council.
Lebanon: A Few Facts from GEO-3
• Adult literacy rates have risen over the past two decades to 92 per cent of the population;
• 30 per cent of the population is under 15 years old;
• Some 550 hectares of forest was lost annually in Lebanon between 1961 and 1997 as a result of fires, tree felling and urban encroachment, among others;
• Lebanon is among several countries in the region which have now recognized the importance of forests and there have been important moves to conserve them for the sake of wildlife and to promote eco-tourism;
• 60 per cent of the 3.5 million people living in Lebanon live in a very narrow coastal strip;
• Soil erosion, running at an estimated 33 tonnes per hectare, and sedimentation pose a threat to coastal areas. Lebanon is a member of UNEP’s Mediterranean Action Plan. In 2001, Lebanon launched a Coastal Area Management Project in the south of the country;
• Over exploitation of aquifers in the coastal zone of Lebanon has caused seawater intrusion with a subsequent rise from 340 to 22,000 mg/litre in some wells near Beirut;
• The cement industry is responsible for over 77 per cent of industrial emissions.
Notes to Editors: Each year, the main World Environment Day (WED) celebrations are held in a city at the invitation of the Government. This year it will be in Beirut.
WED, considered one of the most important events on the environment calendar, is celebrated every year in more than 100 countries. The occasion serves to inspire political and community action. Governments, individuals, non-governmental organizations, community and youth groups, business, industry and the media undertake a variety of activities aimed at renewing their commitment to the protection of the environment.
Individuals and organizations are invited to post details about their planned WED events and learn about what others are doing to celebrate WED across the globe. World Environment Day web site: www.unep.org/wed
For more information, please contact: Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP's Division of Communications and Public Information (DCPI), on Tel: 254-(0)20-623292, Mobile: 254-(0)733-682656, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Head of Media, DCPI, on Tel: 254-(0)20-623084, Mobile:254-(0)733-632755, E-mail: email@example.com
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