8th Special Session of the Governing Council of the United Nations
Environment Programme and the Global Ministerial Environment Forum
29 to 31 March 2004
Jeju/Nairobi, 30 March 2004 – Urgent international assistance
is needed to help small island states deal with a rising tide of
rubbish and wastes.
Studies by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) indicate
that along with issues including rising sea levels, over-fishing,
water shortages and inadequate sanitation services, waste is fast
becoming another key problem.
The Pacific island of Nauru, for example, now has a “blue
green shoreline”. But this has nothing to do with it being
next to a beautiful azure sea.
The colour is caused by rubbish or more specifically mounds of
discarded Fosters and Victoria beer cans.
The wastes not only threaten public health but also livelihoods.
Many small island developing states (SIDS) are dependent on income
Visitors are likely to be less inclined to return to an island
or recommend it to friends if the landscape, shoreline and coastal
waters are littered with plastics, old cans, discarded sofas and
other industrial and household rubbish.
Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said: “Small islands
across the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and the Pacific are some of the
most vulnerable nations on Earth. For example they are threatened
by global warming in the guise of more extreme weather events and
rising sea levels and their water supplies are often restricted.
Many are also found in remote locations and have limited natural
resources which in turn makes them economically vulnerable”.
“Handling solid wastes from industry, households and tourism
is emerging as another issue with which they need advice and help.
Such wastes are not only unsightly and a threat to wildlife, they
can also contaminate rivers and ground waters as they slowly degrade,“
Mr Toepfer said UNEP, in collaboration with other United Nations
agencies and waste institutions, has been assisting SIDS to prepare
waste minimization plans, draw up directories of environmentally
sound waste management technologies and promote cleaner production
techniques that generate less pollution.
“However, we need to do much more right across the range
of wastes if we are to ensure a clean, healthy and sustainable environment
for the citizens of small island developing states,” he added.
Jagdish Koonjul, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)
who is from Mauritius, said: “We urgently need access to effective
and affordable technologies including recycling equipment before
this issue of wastes becomes critical. It is a cry for technology
“Many small island developing states, including my own country
of Mauritius, have launched public awareness campaigns and the people
have responded. But the fact remains that unless you have ways of
re-using and recycling rubbish, it is difficult to know what to
do with materials such as plastics including plastic bags, aluminum
and paper,” he added.
The reports, some of which were released today at an international
gathering of environment ministers taking place in Jeju, the Republic
of Korea, have been compiled by UNEP’s Global Programme of
Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based
Activities or GPA and UNEP’s Global International Waters Assessment
One, a booklet called UNEP and Small Island Developing States:
1994-2004 and Future Perspectives, estimates that since the early
1990s the levels of plastic wastes on small island developing states
(SIDS) has increased five fold. It points out that problems of rubbish
and litter are part of a wider waste crisis.
For example, 90 per cent of waste-water is discharged untreated
from islands in the Caribbean. In parts of the north-east Pacific,
the level of untreated sewage is 98 per cent.
The new reports will be formally presented to ministers attending
a key SIDS conference, called Barbados Plus Ten, taking place on
the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius later in the year.
The Pacific Islands
Litter is described as a “universal problem amongst all the
islands” in the region.
“Pollution of water supplies is potentially region-wide,
due to inadequate treatment of domestic waste water and inadequate
solid waste disposal,” says one GIWA report.
“A short walk along any coastline close to human habitation
in the Pacific Islands will reveal many example of inappropriate
waste disposal, even in areas where there is a municipal collection
system such as the city of Suva (Fiji),” says the report.
It says that creeks running into Apia harbour in Samoa are “heavily
choked with domestic rubbish adjacent to people’s homes and
The report says that despite annual clean ups on islands, social
attitudes appear to be unchanging with the same amount of rubbish
and wastes quickly piling up.
“Inappropriate solid waste disposal places a burden on the
availability of land which is acute in small islands,” it
Indian Ocean Islands
Another report by GIWA says that “the most critical issue
for the States in the region is the growing problem of solid wastes”.
Both Mauritius and the Seychelles have developed organized waste
management schemes. Nevertheless, both these countries still have
In the Comoros, collection and disposal of wastes is “virtually
non-existent and are often found scattered throughout the city and
in both public and village areas”.
In Madagascar, only six per cent of rubbish and wastes are routinely
collected. Over half of the population dispose of their wastes “anywhere
convenient” including on or near beaches and in mangrove swamps.
The levels of rubbish in the capital Antananarivo alone are estimated
to be 65,700 tonnes.
A growing problem is the dumping of wastes at sea which adds to
marine debris and the pollution of coastlines near and far. As a
result islands, such as the World Heritage Site of Aldabara which
is famous for its giant tortoises, are now suffering from hig levels
of rubbish washed ashore.
The report argues that improper disposal of rubbish and wastes
is encouraging vermin, including rats, which in turn carry diseases
such as plague, scabies and other tropical diseases.
Poor disposal of wastes, especially containers, is also generating
increased risk of malarial infections especially in Madagascar and
the Comoros. The containers, ranging from old plastic bags to paint
tins, accumulate still rain water which is an ideal breeding ground
for the disease carrying insects.
Notes to Editors
UNEP’s Activities in Small Island Developing States can be
found at http://www.google-gpa/sids/index.html
The main Global Programme of Action web site is at http://www.google-gpa/
The Global International Waters Assessment (GIWA) web site is at
GIWA’s Regional Assessment 45b for the Indian Ocean Islands
is at www.giwa.net/areas/reports.php and its Regional Assessment
62 for the Pacific Islands is at www.giwa.net/r62
A Caribbean Regional Assessment is nearing completion
For More Information Please Contact For More Information Please
Contact Eric Falt, Spokesperson/Director of UNEP’s Division
of Communications and Public Information, on Tel: 254 20 623292,
Mobile: 254 (0) 733 682656, E-mail: email@example.com or Nick Nuttall,
UNEP Head of Media, in Jeju, Korea, on Tel: (82) 64 767 8616, Mobile:
(82) 18 696 4195, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or Tim Higham, Regional
Information Officer, UNEP, Bangkok, phone +66 2 288 2127, mob +66
9 1283803, email email@example.com
UNEP News Release NR 2004/16