Rubbish blights paradise isles

Posted: 30 March 2004

Small island states are facing a rising tide of rubbish and waste, which are adding to other woes such as rising sea levels, over-fishing, water shortages and inadequate sanitation services.

The Pacific island of Nauru, for example, now has a "blue green shoreline", caused not by the azure sea, but mounds of discarded Fosters and Victoria beer cans.

According to a report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) the waste not only threatens public health but also livelihoods, as income from tourism is put at risk by the visible tide of rubbish. Visitors are less inclined to return to an island or recommend it to friends if the landscape, shoreline and coastal waters are littered with plastics, old cans, discarded sofas and other industrial and household trash.

Klaus Toepfer, Executive Director of UNEP, said: "Small islands across the Caribbean, Indian Ocean and the Pacific are some of the most vulnerable nations on Earth. For example they are threatened by global warming in the guise of more extreme weather events and rising sea levels and their water supplies are often restricted. Many are also found in remote locations and have limited natural resources which in turn makes them economically vulnerable".

"Handling solid wastes from industry, households and tourism is emerging as another issue with which they need advice and help. Such wastes are not only unsightly and a threat to wildlife, they can also contaminate rivers and ground waters as they slowly degrade," he said.

Proliferating plastic

Mr Toepfer said UNEP, in collaboration with other United Nations agencies and waste institutions, has been assisting Small Island Developing States (SIDS) to reduce waste, develop waste management technologies and promote less polluting production techniques. "However, we need to do much more right across the range of wastes", he added.

Jagdish Koonjul, chair of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) who is from Mauritius, said: "We urgently need access to effective andaffordable technologies including recycling equipment before this issue of wastes becomes critical. It is a cry for technology transfer."

The reports, some of which were released today at an international gathering of environment ministers taking place in Jeju, South Korea, have been compiled by UNEP as part of its efforts to protect the sea from land-based activities and assess water quality.

One such booklet estimates that since the early 1990s the levels of plastic wastes on small island developing states has increased fivefold, as part of a larger waste crisis. For example, 90 per cent of waste-water is discharged untreated from islands in the Caribbean. In parts of the north-east Pacific, the level of untreated sewage is 98 per cent.

In Madagascar, only six per cent of rubbish and wastes are routinely collected. Over half of the population dispose of their wastes "anywhereconvenient" including on or near beaches and in mangrove swamps. The capital Antananarivo alone are estimated to be littered with 65,700 tonnes of rubbish.

Marine debris

A growing problem is the dumping of wastes at sea which adds to marine debris and the pollution of coastlines near and far. As a result, islandssuch as the World Heritage Site of Aldabara which is famous for its giant tortoises, are now suffering from high levels of rubbish washed ashore.

The report argues that improper disposal of rubbish and wastes is encouraging vermin, including rats, which in turn carry diseases such as plague, scabies and other tropical diseases.

Poor disposal of wastes, especially containers, is also generating increased risk of malarial infections especially in Madagascar and theComoros. The containers, ranging from old plastic bags to paint tins, accumulate still rain water which is an ideal breeding ground for thedisease carrying insects.

The new reports will be formally presented to ministers attending a key SIDS conference, called Barbados Plus Ten, taking place on the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius later in the year.

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