Water and Sanitation to Top Agenda; Dead Zones in Oceans
Highlighted as Major Emerging Threat
Nairobi, 18 March 2004 – Delivering safe and sufficient water
to over one billion people and providing better sanitation services
for nearly two and half billion people will take centre stage at
international environment talks taking place at the end of the month.
Dust storms and the growing number of ‘dead zones’
in the world’s seas and oceans will also be among the issues
facing delegates attending the Global Ministerial Environment Forum
(GMEF) and the Special Session of the Governing Council of the United
Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The meeting, to take place on the island of Jeju in the Republic
of Korea, will also focus on human settlements, including air pollution
in so-called mega cities.
Environmental threats to small island developing states and opportunities
for delivering sustainable development to these fragile and vulnerable
nations will be on the three-day agenda.
Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said it was right
and appropriate that Asia was hosting its first GMEF. With Asia’s
economic growth now a major factor in the global economy, it is
important that resources and responsibility also shift to address
the environmental legacy that is being created, he added.
“The historical pattern of development in the economies of
Europe, North America and Japan was to industrialize first and clean
up later. Such outdated thinking is not possible in a world of six
billion people and counting. We need to marry strong economic growth
with conservation of the air, land and water supplies upon which
we all depend. In other words, we need environment for development.
For without a healthy and stable environment, long term economic
growth will falter and our goals of eradicating poverty will fail,”
said Mr Toepfer.
“Water and sanitation are among the key issues on our agenda
in Jeju, taking forward the Millennium Development Goals and World
Summit on Sustainable Development’s Plan of Implementation.
Ministers will discuss concrete examples of where countries and
communities are rising to the challenge of reducing by half those
without access to these vital services, with a view to replicating
them across the globe,” he added.
“Human settlements, with all their complex relationships
to people and the natural world, are also high on our agenda. So
I am delighted that we will be joined by Mrs Anna Tibaijuka, Executive
Director of UN-HABITAT, which, like UNEP, is headquartered in Nairobi,
Kenya,” said Mr Toepfer.
Kwak Kyul-Ho, the Republic of Korea’s Environment Minister,
said: “This meeting represents the growing understanding,
cooperation and partnerships being developed in this region as a
result of unprecedented economic dynamism and the associated environmental
Writing in a special edition of Our Planet, UNEP’s flagship
magazine, he added: “ High population density and an explosive
increase in consumption-coupled with rising demand for water-related
recreation-have posed many new challenges, making water management
a top priority on the Republic of Korea’s environmental agenda.”
Other contributors to the magazine, which will be issued to delegates
at the Jeju meeting, include Borge Brende, the Norwegian Environment
Minister; Ronnie Kasrils, the South African Minister of Water Affairs
and Forestry and Gurisankar Ghosh, Executive Director of the Water
Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council.
An opening press conference will be held on Jeju on 29 March to
launch the Global Environment Outlook (GEO) Year Book 2003, prepared
by UNEP to analyze the key issues and developments over the past
It will also highlight emerging threats, including the rise of
oxygen-starved areas in the world’s oceans and seas. These
so-called ‘dead zones’ could be a greater threat to
fish stocks than over-fishing.
The Year Book will highlight the large number of insurance claims
against weather-related disasters, and important debates about the
control of genetically-modified organisms under the Cartagena Protocol.
Significant progress in the phase-out of leaded vehicle fuel in
Africa and new regional agreements to control haze pollution in
South East Asia and protect the marine environment in the Caspian
Sea will also be underlined.
A special section of the Year Book focusing on the role of water
in development shows that without concerted action a third of the
world’s population is likely to suffer from chronic water
shortages in a few decades.
Among several other events being held during the GMEF, which will
be attended by close to 100 ministers and delegations from over
120 countries, will be one on the dust and sand storms that are
a significant health, economic and environmental threat in the region
The storms are caused by land degradation and desertification in
Mongolia and northern China. Scientists have recently linked similar
storms, originating in the Sahara, with damage to coral reefs in
Hosted by the Government of the Republic of Korea the eighth Special
Session of the council will be held at the International Conference
Centre, Jeju between March 29-31.
The GMEF will be preceded by the fifth Global Civil Society Forum,
at which 200 representatives from the non-governmental sector will
examine the same agenda issues and inform the ministerial meeting
of their views.
Notes to Editors:
The Context of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment
The United Nations Millennium Declaration adopted by the Heads of
State and Governments in 2000 undertook “to halve, by 2015
the proportion of people who are unable to reach, or to afford safe
drinking water.” A new target on halving the proportion of
people who do not have access to basic sanitation by 2015 was set
at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) in 2002. These
are major challenges requiring national, regional, global and United
Nations system-wide actions.
The meeting in Jejuis taking place at a critical juncture in the
development of international environmental and sustainable development
policies. The objective of the ministerial discussions is to identify
workable approaches, based on actual experiences, for expediting
the goals of the Millennium Declaration and the WSSD commitments
related to the environmental aspects of water, sanitation and human
settlements, and the centrality of ecosystem approaches in water
These deliberations will inform the 12th meeting of the UN Commission
on Sustainable Development (CSD) to be held in New York in April
2004. This meeting will review progress towards the commitments
related to the water, sanitation and human settlements cluster of
issues made at previous international meetings.
The CSD is also the forum for final preparations for a 10-year
review of the Barbados Plan of Action for the Sustainable Development
of Small Island Developing States (BPoA+10). This international
meeting will be held in Mauritius in August-September 2004 to discuss
specific actions and measures at the national, regional, and international
levels to support the sustainable development of the Small Island
Developing States (SIDS).
UNEP’s GC/GMEF meets annually with its venue alternating
between UNEP’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, and another
Some of its responsibilities include “To promote international
cooperation in the field of the environment and to recommend, as
appropriate, policies to this end” and “To keep under
review the world environmental situation in order to ensure that
emerging environmental problems of wide international significance
receive appropriate and adequate consideration by Governments.”
The Water, Sanitation, People edition of Our Planet will be available
on-line at http://www.ourplanet.com after 21 March 2004
For more information please contact Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director
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UNEP News Release 2004/