UN Warns Asia Faces Marine Pollution Crisis
BEIJING, China, October 17, 2006 (ENS) - The fasting growing economies and populations of East Asia are putting the region's marine ecosystem under increasing stress, the United Nations warned Monday. A new study finds 90 percent of Asia's sewage is discharged into the marine environment waters without treatment, threatening fisheries, mangrove forests, coral reefs and coastal wetlands.
The report comes amid an international conference in Beijing aimed at reducing marine pollution. The conference, which began Monday and extends through Friday, is reviewing the UN Environment Program's (UNEP) global program of action (GPA) for protection of the marine environment.
Delegates from 115 countries are attending the intergovernmental review of the 10 year-old initiative.
Organizers are hoping the meeting will result in commitments to more directly link management of freshwaters, including rivers and lakes, with efforts to minimize coastal-based pollution in recognition that a substantial portion of marine contamination comes from inland areas via rivers and other freshwater sources.
Asia is by no means alone - much of the world faces similar problems with marine pollution. But the "Asian region crystallizes the challenges and opportunities facing the global community trying to balance economic development and poverty eradication with social and environmental factors," said Veerle Vandeweerd, co-coordinator of UNEP/GPA.
There are successes in Asia to be celebrated, Vandeweerd said, including some rehabilitation and restoration of some mangrove forests as well as increased spending on efforts to protect the marine environment.
Awareness of the need to protect the marine environment from pollution "has never been higher," she said, "but at the same time these successes are being overwhelmed by booming populations, rapid urbanization and industrialization and a range of growing pressures in the coastal zones."
"Despite international agreements, we keep pumping raw sewage into the sea," Vandeweerd said.
Sewage treatment access across Asia varies widely - from roughly 60 per cent of Japan's population to 15 per cent in Mumbai, India, to about 6 per cent in Karachi, Pakistan.
Discharges from many big industrial plants situated along the coast is also a threat and is a "common feature" in much of South Asia, Vandeweerd added.
Traditional land use patterns are changing across Asia as result of continued economic growth leading to increased use of fertilizers, which along with sources like sewage and animal wastes. are increasing nutrient loads in coastal waters.
In 2001, close to 80 red tide events occurred affecting 15,000 square kilometers of coastal waters.
Studies in the Philippines and Indonesia estimate that the damage to coral reefs from logging-induced sedimentation greatly exceeds the economic benefits of logging, according to the report.
Coastal erosion is widespread, UNEP said, between a fifth to a quarter of seasgrass beds in Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand have been damaged as a result of impacts including clearance for commercial seaweed farms, pollution, sedimentation and dredging.
"Governments need to hurry up and step up action to reduce pollution from land-based sources, otherwise rapid development will come at a high price as a result of losses and damage to economically important habitats, ecosystems and marine resources from coastlines and coral reefs to mangroves and fisheries," Vandeweerd said.
She said the conference organizers are also hoping for commitments towards greater cooperation and alliances between governments and civil society, local authorities, private business and other non-governmental organizations.
"Tackling marine pollution is the primary responsibility of national governments," she said, "[but] it is also a responsibility of all sectors of society from private business to local authorities."