UN agency helps launch campaign to clean up world's seas

NEW YORK 14 May 2004 -- With 80 per cent of ocean pollution coming from land-based activities and half the coasts -- home to 1 billion people -- already threatened by development activity, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) today took part in the launch of a new campaign to clean up the seas by ensuring that people have access to toilets and safe drinking water.

"Achieving this will require alternatives to traditional large-scale investment projects," said Veerle Vandeweerd, UNEP Coordinator of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities. "We need more innovative approaches to technology, infrastructure development, financing and management, including more use of natural sewage filtering systems like ponds, reed beds and mangrove swamps."

The new campaign, launched in Cairns, Australia, along with the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), is called "Wastewater Emission Targets -- Water, Sanitation and Hygiene for All, or WET-WASH.

"WET-WASH is significant because of the linkages between WETs and the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) for water and sanitation that are vital for poverty alleviation and sustainable development efforts," WSSCC Chairman Jan Pronk said. The MDGs are a set of time-bound a measurable goals that world leaders agreed to in 2000 that deal with halving extreme poverty and hunger, educational parity, eradicating diseases and illness and other global problems.

Globally, sewage is that largest source of marine contamination by volume; although industrial pollution and more diffuse sources, such as from agricultural practices and sedimentation due to deforestation and mining operations also pose a significant threat to the health and productivity of coastal resources.

According to UNEP, the global economic burden due to ill-health, disease and death related to the pollution of coastal waters is estimated at $16 billion a year. There are more and more so-called "dead zones," oxygen-starved areas in the world's oceans and seas whose proliferation could be a greater threat to fish stocks than over-fishing.

These dead zones are linked to an excess of nutrients, mainly nitrogen, that originate from agricultural fertilizers, vehicle and factory emissions and domestic wastes. Low-levels of oxygen in the water make it difficult for fish, oysters and other marine creatures to survive as well as for important habitats such as sea grass beds.

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