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Tajikistan: UN review finds that access to clean water among most pressing environmental challenges

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14 December 2012 – Access to clean water and improved sanitation and waste management remain some of the most pressing environmental challenges for Tajikistan, according to a United Nations review of the Central Asian nation’s management of its environment, published today.

Carried out by the UN Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE), the so-called Environmental Performance Review (EPR) of Tajikistan – the second of its kind – covers ten issues of importance to the country related to policymaking, planning and implementation, the financing of environmental policies, climate change, water management, waste management, human health and the environment and biodiversity conservation.

It notes a series of improvements, including significant changes to the legal and policy framework in the area of the environment, as well as challenges that the country is still facing.

It is the second such review of progress made by the country in the management of its environment, with the first having been carried out in 2004. The EPRs are independent, external assessments that are carried out under the auspices of the UNECE Committee on Environmental Policy.

Tajikistan has abundant water resources, according to the regional commission. However, due to institutional weaknesses as well as inadequate funding and outdated infrastructure in the water sector, there are multiple challenges in the use and protection of water resources.

The EPR finds that only one third of Tajikistan’s 7.2 million inhabitants have access to chlorinated piped water. Some 30 per cent rely on spring water and the remainder of the population depend on river and ditch water sources. Only five per cent of the population are connected to public sewerage.

The functioning of the water supply and sewerage systems is, moreover, frequently interrupted by power outages, which is also a source of water contamination, the Review finds. Frequent power cuts limit water supply to a few hours per day. Although there has been an overall improvement since 2004 in the quality of drinking water, 15 per cent of samples do not meet bacteriological standards today.

Waste management has been receiving more attention since 2004. Nevertheless, today municipal solid waste collection services are only provided for the urban population, which represents about 26 per cent of the total population. Waste disposal practices require urgent improvement as even in the capital, Dushanbe, the city’s single disposal site does not meet sanitary norms and standards.

Tailing ponds from mining activities also pose a threat to human health in the country, according to the EPR. Approximately 54.8 million tons of waste from past uranium mining operations are still located in unsecured sites in northern Tajikistan, a number of them close to Khujand, the country’s second-largest city.

The Review concludes with a set of 47 recommendations to the country to improve management of its environment, to better integrate the goals of sustainable development into sectoral policies, to promote greater accountability to the public and to strengthen cooperation with the international community.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43774&Cr=tajikistan&Cr1=

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UN environment agency welcomes renewed commitment to protecting Caspian Sea

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13 December 2012 – The five countries bordering the Caspian Sea have reaffirmed their strong commitment to protect its marine environment, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), which welcomed the move as an “important step.”

In a news release, the UN agency said that Azerbaijan, Iran, Russia, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan had reached a crucial milestone by adopting and signing one more protocol to the Framework Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the Caspian Sea, also known as the Tehran Convention: the Protocol for the Protection of the Caspian Sea against Pollution from Land-based Sources and Activities (LBSA Protocol).

“The signing of the LBSA Protocol in Moscow is an important step forward in the process as it addresses one of the major ecological threats to the Caspian environment and aims to safeguard coasts and waters from the detrimental effects of pollution from land-based sources such as agriculture, industry and urban settlements,” UNEP stated.

Ministers and high-level government representatives from the five countries had met in the Russian capital of Moscow for the Fourth Meeting of the Convention’s Conference of the Parties (COP4) from 10-12 December.

Hosted by the Russian Government, COP4 was also attended by representatives from the European Union, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the UN Development Programme (UNDP), in addition to UNEP, as well as other international observers.

“This remarkable progress follows the 2011 adoption and signing of the Aktau Protocol on Regional Preparedness, Response and Cooperation in Combating Oil Pollution Incidents, at COP3 in Kazakhstan,” UNEP said.

The UN agency noted that the Caspian environmental process, supported for many years by the world body and others, led to the signing of the landmark Tehran Convention in 2003 and its entry into force in August 2006, and for which UNEP provides the Secretariat.

It added that the legally-binding agreement resulted in increasing cooperation amongst the five Caspian nations and comes at a crucial time when the Caspian region is witnessing unprecedented growth in oil and gas exploration, exploitation and transportation.

In the area of cooperation in addressing common environmental challenges, UNEP said that COP4 laid the groundwork for implementing a sound environmental monitoring and reporting programme in the region, providing for harmonized and regular information and data exchange between the countries.

“Environmental cooperation is an essential basis for the overall economic and social development of the region, a crucial first step on the road to a green economy, equitable management of resources, and a sustainable future for all Caspian states,” said UNEP’s Executive Director, Achim Steiner, on the progress achieved by the Caspian nations throughout the years, and in particular at COP4.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43763&Cr=Caspian&Cr1=

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Nuclear plants in Japan operating normally following earthquake

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7 December 2012 – Nuclear plants near the region that was hit by a 7.3 magnitude earthquake off the eastern coast of Japan appear to be operating normally, the United Nations atomic energy agency said today, adding that no emergency measures have been put into place so far.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said it had been in contact with Japan’s Nuclear Regulation Authority (NRA) to collect information about the status of nuclear power plants that could be affected.

“Nuclear power plants in the region nearest to the epicentre of the earthquake have reported to NRA that they have detected no trouble and that no emergency measures have been activated,” said IAEA’s spokesperson, Gill Tudor.

The earthquake triggered a one metre sea level rise in some areas and prompted evacuations, but according to media reports, no deaths, injuries or serious damage have been noted. Media reports said the earthquake’s epicentre was about 245 kilometres south-east of the city of Kamiashi at a depth of about 36 kilometres.

Ms. Tudor said the IAEA has offered its good offices to Japan and reaffirmed its readiness to provide assistance if the Government should request it.

In March 2011, Japan was struck by an earthquake and tsunami that killed more than 20,000 people in the eastern part of the country. In addition to causing widespread destruction, the tsunami also slammed into the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station, located in Fukushima Prefecture, disabling cooling systems and leading to fuel meltdowns in three of the six units.

The accident, which was reported to be the worst nuclear accident since the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, shook the nuclear industry, regulators and governments; and weaknesses in the design and various oversights in the power station were later identified, which could have diminished the damage. Since then, the Japanese Government has significantly increased its efforts to improve its early warning systems and nuclear safety measures.

Article source: http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=43705&Cr=nuclear&Cr1=

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