100 million people live in 1600 cities around the Mediterranean Sea and they are poisoning it. Ultimately, they are signing their own death warrant. Ministers representing these cities are meeting in Athens this week to determine what may be done to reverse this trend.
For example, wastewater from Beirut’s 2 million people empty straight into the Mediterranean Sea without treatment. Landfills leach out into water courses and toxic waste finds its way into the sea. Astonishingly, almost 6,000,000 people living in urban areas bordering the sea do not have access to sanitation.
The Mediterranean is also a hotspot in climate change scenarios. In the future it expects to see higher temperatures, less rain and more extreme weather. This will have the effect of concentrating the pollutants.
All of this is focusing the minds of attendees at the first gathering since 2006 of the happening today in Athens and at an informal European Commission Environmental Council meeting tomorrow.. These people are in charge of environment and climate change in the 43 countries of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM).
The Meeting is being co-chaired by Al Shakhshir, Minister of Environment of Jordan and Janez Potočnik (right – @JanezPotocnikEU), the Slovenian European Commissioner for the Environment, who says that “Co-ordinated action is needed if we have to be effective.”
He says that the private sector “will have to be part of the solution. This is because nearly 60% of our plastic waste is packaging and 70-to 80% of marine litter and pollution comes from sources online. To see real and tangible results we need to address the problem at source.”
Today is also the launch of “Marine Litter Week”, which is advocating increased awareness and resource efficiency as a way of protecting the oceans.
The main causes of Mediterranean pollution are municipal waste, oven wastewater and industrial pollution. Progress has been made in depolluting the Mediterranean since 2007 but gaps in our data need to be filled,” said Hans Bruyninckx of the European Environment Agency.
The Agency has published a new report, the “Horizon 2020 Mediterranean report – Toward shared environmental information systems“, coordinated by the European Environment Agency (EEA) and the United Nations Environment Programme/Mediterranean Action Plan with financial support from the European Commission under the ENPI-SEIS project that is being presented at the meetings.
Besides the European Union the main countries involved include Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine and Tunisia, which work with the European Union within the European Neighbourhood Policy.
The key findings are that although sanitation has improved in the region over the last 10 years, with a proportion of the population with access to sanitation increasing from 87.5% to 92%, there are still 17.6 million people in the region without sanitation, one third of whom live in urban areas.
Progress in managing urban waste water is difficult to assess as the data sources are not sound, says the report, but on the positive side they note that there is great potential to reuse waste water in the region. Water is becoming increasingly scarce.
Only about 1% of wastewater is presently reused so there is a growth opportunity for investment in treatment to be back into circulation instead of emptying it into the sea.
Waste generation in the southern Mediterranean region has grown approximately 15% in the last decade because of growing population and increased consumption patterns.
As a result, waste management need significant improvement. Around a quarter of waste is still not collected and that which is collected is mostly dumped into landfill, finding its way into the sea. Recycling rates are below 10%.
Industrial emissions include heavy metals that discharge into the sea, although these have reduced in recent years, but there is much marine pollution from cities, industry and tourist resorts.
One impact is on tourism, since beaches end up being polluted.
The report has specific annexes on Palestine and Israel. Just under half of Palestinians are still not connected to a sewage treatment system. Most West Bank households rely on cesspits for wastewater disposal, although in the Gaza Strip sewage collection networks are now the norm.
The Israeli Environment Minister MK Amir Peretz told the conference that he is willing to be involved in bilateral cooperation to tackle the problem.
Ministers were told today of the urgent need to invest in creating an emissions inventory to show annual emissions of pollutants from different industrial facilities. There is plenty of scope for increasing cooperation and information sharing.
The main report says that “the emergence of urban poverty ‘pockets’ and inequities between urban and rural areas are still significant. The gap between urban and rural coverage (for sewage and waste treatment) is striking”.
Industrial pollution and nutrient run-off from agriculture ends up in the Mediterranean, a problem that is worsening particularly in states to the east and south of the sea. The worst culprits for pollution are the energy, petroleum, urban wastewater, food packaging, cement and metallurgy sectors.
These sectors also are poor on providing information on pollution. Although all states have policies in place, few actively monitor pollution. Ministers will be urged today and tomorrow to strengthen the institutional setup at national and regional levels to cope with the challenges of pollution control and prevention.
This means significantly enhancing the capabilities of public authorities to enforce environmental legislation.