UNEP, established in 1972 to be the watchdog of the world environment, has it’s headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya. The organization’s mission is to provide leadership and encourage partnership in caring for the environment by inspiring, informing, and enabling nations and peoples to improve their quality of life without compromising that of future generations. UNEP follows the guidance and requests of the ministers of the environment of member-countries, sitting in the UNEP Governing Council.
I. UNEP/ROWA’s mission
UNEP through its regional office (ROWA) is providing a variety of services to West Asia member states including policy advice, technical assistance, capacity development, networking opportunities, knowledge generation and dissemination, technology transfer and implementation of environmental projects, in additional to the convening role for environmental discussions and negotiations."
The West Asia Region is made up of two geographic sub-region covering in total 12 countries: the Mashriq sub-region (Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, the Occupied Palestinian Territories and Syria) and the Arabian Peninsula sub-region consisting of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries (Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates) and Yemen. The region contains diverse terrestrial eco-systems, including vast deserts, mountains, forests, extensive coastal areas spread over three regional seas and two ocean, and fertile pastures.
The United Nations Environment Programme’s Regional Office for West Asia (ROWA), established in Manama, Bahrain, is one of the six regional offices that make up UNEP’s Division of Regional Cooperation (DRC). ROWA has a complete of experts who advice on the environmental machinery and technical requirements, review project proposals, and recommend action by governments and other organizations.
UNEP/ROWA’s mission is to coordinate UNEP’s Programme of Work in West Asia, provide the link between UNEP’s Divisions and the countries of the region. To achieve this mission, ROWA strategy is to promote collaboration between UNEP and all sectors of West Asia society, including governmental institutions, private sector and civil society groups.
ROWA works with a wide range of experts from within UNEP and also from the region, to provide advisory services, capacity building and technology transfer in the priority areas of the region under a series of umbrella programmes.
ROWA’s main objective is to develop relevant programmes to respond to the needs of the region, with a focus on enabling member states to achieve their visions for sustainable development.
II. Environmental Challenges in West Asia
ROWA encourages governments to implement the multilateral environmental agreements in order to reduce the environmental threats that are particularly challenging in West Asia.
Experts define the main environmental challenges in West Asia as following:
- Water management. With only 1 000 m3 per inhabitant per year, Arab countries `are now among most water-scarce in the world. Groundwater is being mined causing saline intrusion into coastal aquifers. Ambitious strategies and actions must be developed to conserve water resources.
- Land degradation. Among the key factors causing land degradation are the serious overgrazing, inefficient erosion and loss of productivity which have been aggravated by climatic factors, population growth, urbanization and clearing vegetation for agricultural.
Coastal degradation, marine pollution and fishery decline. Coastal and marine ecosystems, with their resources of inestimable value, strain under pressures from human activities. Pollution, excessive urbanization and unsustainable tourism have irreparably damaged much of the region’s coastline, while at sea, overfishing, oil spills and pollution from maritime transport have led to deterioration in fish stocks, the primary source of protein and income in some of the Arab countries. Again, food security is further undermined and coastal communities reliant on fishing face a real risk of impoverishment
- Loss of biodiversity and Habitat destruction.
Biodiversity in the Arab region is declining due to development pressures. In the past thirty years, overexploitation of ecosystems in the region has caused a loss of habitats, especially coastal and wetland habitats. This has caused a decline in numbers and variety in many species, and has changed their natural territorial distribution. There are currently 1 084 endangered species in Arab countries; 24 per cent of these are fish or marine life, 22 per cent are birds and mammals account for a further 20 per cent.
- Chemicals and Waste Management.
Chemicals and wastes are an important issue in the region with hazardous substances used in a variety of industrial and medical applications, and the management of these as well as more general wastes requiring environmental safeguards.
III. UNEP in the region
ROWA works with United Nations agencies notably, ESCWA and UNDP as well as with a wide range of governmental and inter-governmental partners to respond to the needs of the region. For instance, ROWA supports the council of Arab Ministers Responsible for the Environment (CAMRE), the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and other regional and sub-regional intergovernmental mechanisms by active involvement in the preparation and follow-up of the programme of work and by regular reporting on activities and progress in implementing the global environment programme and providing policy guidance and advice to Technical teams.