UN Environment Chief Ends Mission to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory Pledging Environmental Cooperation Across the Divide
Gaza Strip/Nairobi, 21 April 2009-UN Under-Secretary General and UN Environment Programme head Achim Steiner today wound up a three-day mission to Israel, Gaza and the West Bank saying he hoped environment could build bridges and foster cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians.
During the visit he witnessed at first hand some of the challenges facing the authorities and the people living in the region as a result of the recent conflict and its impact on the environmental infrastructure.
And formally announced UNEP plans to deploy up to eight experts in early May to carry out an environmental assessment of the Gaza strip in the wake of the December 2008 to January 2009 conflict.
The mission kicked off in Tel Aviv where Mr Steiner delivered a lecture at the university of Tel aviv's school of governance and policy to business leaders, officials and students on UNEP's Green Economy initiative and the opportunities for countries embracing a Global Green New Deal.
He also met H.E. Gilad Erdan, Israel's new Environment Minister as well as officials from the ministries of environment and foreign affairs with whom he discussed opportunities for future cooperation on issues such as the green economy and climate change as well as regional, environmental cooperation. Mr Steiner noted with appreciation the positive and constructive nature of discussions with Mr Erdan concerning environmental issues and their potential for facilitating actions of interest to all communities affected.
Earlier in the day the UNEP Executive Director visited facilities related to 2 of Israel's key environmental concerns - water and waste - namely the reverse osmosis desalination plant in Ashkelon and the Hiriya landfill and its state of the art recycling facilities.
In Ramallah, he met with H.E. Salam Fayad, the Palestinian Authority's Prime Minister and members of his cabinet. The meetings also included a review of proposals with officials of the environment quality authority related to environmental assessment and priority areas in which UNEP could assist.
Mr Steiner's programme also included a high level briefing with UN officials Jens Toyberg Frandzen, UNDP's special representative; Robert Serrry, the UN Special Co-ordinator for the Middle East peace process and Maxwell Gaylard, the humanitarian co-ordinator at which he committed UNEP to strengthening technical support to the UN team. Issues related to the continuing humanitarian challenge and support for the forthcoming UNEP environmental assessment mission were also addressed.
Today the visit took him to northern Gaza where he saw at first hand the challenges of rubble, sewage and other waste management issues facing local communities.
He described what he saw to one journalist: "It is the continued non-action that is exacerbating a problem that did not end with the hostilities, such as sewage".
Mr Steiner noted that mountains of rubble, from homes destroyed in the war, have remained in place.
"It's a frozen image of a conflict that ended over three months ago. Yet as you drive through, it is as if it happened last week," he said. "This speaks to the enormous frustration of the international community and the people in Gaza. What could have been done simply cannot happen under the current circumstances."
However, Mr Steiner expressed his hope that environmental issues with implications for peoples' well being on both sides of the divide could pave the way for practical and meaningful cooperation in the future.
For more information please contact: Conal Urquhart, External Relations Advisor for UNDP, +972 (0) 548 176 749 who is assisting Mr Steiner on his visit to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory.
Or Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media, on Tel: +254 733 632755 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org