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Press Release

UNEP completes fieldwork in the Gaza Strip
21/ 05/ 2009

UNEP completes fieldwork in the Gaza StripA team of UNEP experts is leaving the Gaza Strip after completing fieldwork in the area, as part of a post-conflict environmental assessment undertaken following the escalation of hostilities there in December 2008 and January 2009.

Gaza Strip/Nairobi, 21 May 2009 - A team of experts from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is leaving the Gaza Strip after completing fieldwork in the area, as part of a post-conflict environmental assessment undertaken following the escalation of hostilities there in December 2008 and January 2009.

Conducted at the request of its Member States, the UNEP assessment aims to examine the natural and environmental impacts on the Gaza Strip caused by the recent hostilities, and to make concrete recommendations for rehabilitation.

The fieldwork phase of the assessment was carried out by a multi-disciplinary team of eight UNEP experts, who spent ten days in Gaza from 10 to 19 May. The main sectors under investigation were waste and waste water, the coastal and marine environment, and solid and hazardous waste management, including asbestos.

Travelling extensively across the Gaza Strip, the UNEP team undertook walkover inspections of some 32 sites to assess environmental impacts and collect samples for laboratory analysis. The team also collected data for an economic evaluation of the cost of rehabilitation and restoration of the environmental damage in Gaza.

Sites visited included residential areas, schools, industrial areas, sewage facilities, landfills and the coastline, where detailed sampling of water and sediments, bio-indicators, asbestos and waste water was conducted.

Samples collected on the ground will be sent to an independent international laboratory and analysed in the coming weeks. Together with concrete recommendations for rehabilitation, the findings of the assessment will be published in a UNEP Post-Conflict Environmental Assessment report during the summer.

Notes to Editors:

Following the escalation of hostilities in the Gaza Strip in December 2008 and January 2009, the Governing Council of UNEP, in its Decision 25/12, mandated the organization to initiate a post-conflict environmental assessment to examine the natural and environmental impacts on the Gaza Strip caused by the hostilities. UNEP was also requested to conduct an economic evaluation of the cost of environmental rehabilitation and restoration.

In late January 2009, in the immediate aftermath of the hostilities, UNEP deployed a senior staff member as part of the UN Early Recovery Needs Assessment mission to Gaza, to evaluate the potential environmental impacts of the recent hostilities, including the large quantities of rubble, asbestos and other hazardous waste; hazardous health care waste, and groundwater and soil contamination. The UN Early Recovery mission culminated in a Gaza Early Recovery Rapid Needs Assessment report, which supported a Palestinian National Early Recovery Plan for Gaza, prepared by UN agencies and the Palestinian ministries, with technical support from the UN, World Bank and the European Commission. The latter was launched in Sharm El-Sheikh on 2 March 2009.
The Early Recovery mission identified several areas in need of further, more extensive, investigation following the hostilities in December 2008 and January 2009, including:

Solid Waste Management

The recent conflict created large quantities of building demolition waste, which is often contaminated with hazardous materials such as asbestos.

Even prior to this most recent conflict, Gaza did not have an appropriate system for waste segregation and disposal. Consequently, the creation of such large quantities of solid waste, within such a short time, has overloaded the already inadequate infrastructure.

Waste Water Management

The Gaza Strip lacked an adequate sewerage system prior to the most recent conflict and damage of the existing sewerage infrastructure further aggravated an already serious public health situation. Detailed analysis of the impact on groundwater will be required.

Management of Contaminated Land

Small-scale industries, such as factories, cement works and garages were struck during the conflict. This has created numerous potentially contaminated sites within the urban environment.

UNEP is now undertaking a detailed environmental assessment of the Gaza Strip, based on fieldwork and independent laboratory analysis. As requested through Decision 25/12, UNEP experts will also undertake an economic evaluation of the rehabilitation and restoration of the environmental damage in Gaza. Together with concrete recommendations for rehabilitation, findings will be published in a final UNEP report to be released during the summer of 2009.

During the field mission conducted in Gaza from 9-21 May, UNEP also delivered two training workshops, the first on handling asbestos and other hazardous substances in rubble management, and the second on health and safety practices for demolition and disposal of damaged buildings. Participants included engineers and representatives from local municipalities, as well as UN agencies and non-governmental organizations.

For more information please contact:

Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson/Head of Media, on Tel: +41 79 596 5737, or E-mail: nick.nuttall@unep.org

Silja Halle, Communications Advisor, UNEP Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch, on Tel: +41 79 634 0899, or E-mail: silja.halle@unep.ch

Further Resources
UNEP's work in Gaza
UNEP Disasters and Conflict programme