As the Asian earthquake and tsunami death toll is now feared to be approaching 100,000 people, emergency humanitarian assistance remains the top priority, but urgent environmental concerns that threaten human health must be addressed, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) said.
UNEP earmarks $1 million for environmental needs assessments
Nairobi, 30 December 2004 -- As the Asian earthquake and tsunami death tollis now feared to be approaching 100,000 people, emergency humanitarianassistance remains the top priority, but urgent environmental concerns thatthreaten human health must be addressed, the United Nations EnvironmentProgramme (UNEP) said today.
The Organization decided to create a Task Force in Geneva to coordinate allinputs from the UNEP system to identify and alleviate the environmentalimpacts of the disaster and to support the efforts of the affectedcountries and the UN.
UNEP has mobilized $1 million to respond to the immediate needsidentified by the region's Governments. "Our support echoes directly therequests from national authorities for environmental experts to assess andmitigate the urgent problems. Therefore, we are sending experts to work withthe Governments and the UN country teams", underlined Mr. Klaus Toepfer,Executive Director of UNEP.
The agency has also strengthened its office in Bangkok, which isresponsible for activities in the Asia-Pacific region.
"While the focus is to save lives and fight diseases, it is also importantto address underlying risks, such as solid and liquid waste, industrialchemicals, sewage treatment and the salinization of drinking water. Thedamage to ports and industrial infrastructure may be severe, with untoldrisks to human health. Likewise, revitalizing local communities and theirlivelihoods will require rehabilitating and protecting vital naturalecosystems, in particular mangrove forests and coral reefs", Mr. Toepfersaid.
He added: "UNEP is therefore also mobilizing its remote sensing andGeographic Information System (GIS) capacities, in collaboration with otherUN agencies, to help identify impacts and make relevant informationavailable to relief efforts. All in all, a number of grave environmentalconcerns must be taken into account as the reconstruction plans are drawnup."
Several Governments in the region have stressed to UNEP the importance ofdeveloping effective early-warning systems. This issue will be high on theagenda of the International Meeting on the Sustainable Development of SmallIsland Developing States (SIDS), scheduled to take place in Mauritius from10 to 14 January 2005, and at the World Conference on Disaster Reduction(WCDR), scheduled to take place in Kobe, Japan, from 18 to 22 January. UNEPwill be a main contributor to these conferences.
Note to Editors
Details on the International Meeting to Review the Implementation of theProgramme of Action for the Sustainable Development of Small IslandDeveloping States (SIDS) taking place in Mauritius 10 to 14 January 2005can be found at http://www.un.org/smallislands2005/ andhttp://www.sidsmauritius2005.mu/
Details on the World Conference on Disaster Reduction (WCDR)scheduled to take place in Kobe, Japan from 18 to 22 January can be foundat: http://www.unisdr.org/wcdr/
Prior to the disaster, UNEP warned on 15 December that 2004 is set to godown in history books as the most expensive year for the insurance industryworldwide as a result of hurricanes, typhoons and other weather-relatednatural disasters. See press release at: http://www.unep.org/NewsCentre/
United Nations activities are coordinated by the Office for theCoordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). More information can be foundat: http://ochaonline.un.org/index.asp and at:http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf
For more information, contact:Eric Falt
Spokesman/Director UNEP Division of Communications and Public Information
Tel: +254-20-623292, mobile: +254-733-682.656
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