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 are 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.

Note to Editors

A press conference to launch the new UNEP report will be held at 11am on Thursday 30 March in the Hotel American Colony, East Jerusalem.

Copies of the report, “Environmental Assessment of the Areas disengaged by Israel in the Gaza Strip”, and photographs can be downloaded from: http://www.unep.org or http://postconflict.unep.ch/opt_new.htm

The web sites also contain further background information on UNEP’s earlier work in the region including a study on the Environment in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

For broadcasters, B-roll footage taken during the Gaza field work is also available.

For more information please contact: Robert Bisset, UNEP Press Officer (in Jerusalem until 31 March) on mobile +33 6 22725842, email: robert.bisset@unep.fr.

In Nairobi, contact: Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, on Tel: +254 20 62 3084; Mobile: +254 733 632 755, email: nick.nuttall@unep.org

If there is no prompt response, contact Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Media Officer, on +254 20623088, Mob: +254 720173968, email: elisabeth.waechter@unep.org

UNEP News Release 2006/20


 

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