UN agency lobbies for a cleaner Mediterranean

The Mediterranean is a dangerously polluted sea and if nations in the region do not make crucial changes to infrastructure and procedures to reduce the amount of waste being discharged into it, the deterioration of our seas and coasts will continue, the Athens office of the United Nations Environment Program Mediterranean Action Plan (UNEP MAP) warned yesterday ahead of World Environment Day tomorrow. Focusing on the state of the planet’s seas and oceans, World Environment Day 2004 aims to educate both governments and citizens on how to protect our seas and beaches. Indeed, the goal of this year’s initiative, as outlined by UNEP is to: «empower people to become active agents of sustainable and equitable development; promote an understanding that communities are pivotal to changing attitudes toward environmental issues; and advocate partnership which will ensure all nations and peoples enjoy a safer and more prosperous future.» However, prospects for positive developments appear less than auspicious in view of long-term forecasts of increased industrial and agricultural development in the Mediterranean region, according to UNEP MAP. And although industry and agriculture carry much of the blame – along with maritime traffic, the pollution produced by urban centers is also causing widespread destruction on a daily basis. Plastic is one of the most dangerous pollutants in the Mediterranean, according to UNEP MAP, which stressed that plastic packaging forms a large proportion of daily garbage disposal. The size of this disposal is calculated at 254 kilograms per person per year in the Mediterranean region with an estimated annual growth rate of 2-3 percent. In the Mediterranean, plastic alone accounts for 75 percent of waste on the sea surface and the seabed, according to UNEP MAP, which drew attention to the steady accumulation of non-biodegradable plastic and tar balls on beaches along the entire Mediterranean coast. One of UNEP MAP’s chief functions is to advise the region’s governments on how to reduce the amount of land-based pollution harming the Mediterranean Sea and its coasts and on how to treat municipal waste. Currently, it is drawing up an inventory of pollution «hot spots» across the region. The inventory is scheduled to be finished by the end of 2005, when each «offending» country will be issued with its own «National Action Plan» which will outline a 10-year program (including an investment portfolio) offering guidance on how to practically and cost-efficiently reduce pollution emissions. At the moment countries in the region, including Greece, display serious shortfalls in managing their waste, due to inadequate infrastructure and organization, UNEP MAP noted. Problems include the location of many waste dumps near the sea (which apparently facilitates the transfer of solid wastes into the marine environment during storms), the fact that few disposal sites meet required standards of design and technical capacity, and the lack of state-run recycling programs.