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This page was updated on: 01/12/10


Water, Oceans and Wetlands Media Report Archives: 2010; 2009; 2008; 2007; 2006; 2005; 2004; 2003



Following 50 years of planning, China has finally begun the colossal undertaking of diverting its water from the water-rich South to the parched and thirsty North. The project, which was envisioned by Chairman Mao Zedong in the 1950s and approved last year by the State Council, is expected to take another 50 years to complete. Requiring approximately US$59 billion, the South-North diversion project will cost twice as much as damming the Three Gorges, another massive Chinese water project. Proposed in the diversion plan is the building of three new “rivers,” all exceeding 1,000 km in length and channeling 44.8 billion cubic meters annually from the southern Yangtze river to the northern Yellow, Huaihe and Haihe rivers. The cities of Beijing and Tianjin and the eastern provinces of Jiangsu and Shandong are expected to benefit most from this effort. Environmental experts, both Chinese and foreign, have cautioned against the possibility of corruption, environmental damage and drying up of the Yangtze river.


Links to further information

Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the US press release, 27 December 2002


Planet Ark news story, 30 December 2002




Having concluded its work on oceans and the law of the sea, the United Nations General Assembly (GA) adopted three resolutions concerning marine environment protection, destructive fishing practices and compliance of shipping vessels with conservation measures. In its resolution on marine protection, the GA decided to establish a regular process under the UN for the global reporting and assessment of the state of the marine environment by 2004. It further invited the UN Secretary-General to establish an effective, transparent and regular inter-agency coordination mechanism on oceans and coastal issues within the UN system. In a resolution on harmful fishing practices, the GA urged States to apply the precautionary approach to the conservation, management and exploitation of straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks and encouraged them to apply the ecosystem approach by 2010. The GA also urged all States and other relevant entities to pursue cooperation in relation to straddling fish stocks and highly migratory fish stocks, urging them to ensure the effective conservation, management and long-term sustainability of such stocks.


The United Nations also commemorated the 20th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, which was first opened for signature in Montego Bay, Jamaica in 1982. During the commemoration, participants heard statements and scientific presentation on new discoveries in the oceans, and participated in two panels on the dynamism of the convention, considering challenges for the present and solutions for the future.


Links to further information

UN press release, 12 December 2002


Oceans and Law of the Sea website


Text of the resolutions




Endeavoring to raise awareness and promote action on managing and protecting clean water resources, the United Nations has launched the International Year of Freshwater. The General Assembly proclaimed the International Year in December 2000, following the 2000 Millennium Declaration by world leaders, who pledged to reduce by half the proportion of people who are unable to reach, or to afford, safe drinking water by 2015. According to the UN, 1.2 billion people are without access to freshwater and 2.4 billion lack proper sanitation. More than 3 million die each year from diseases caused by unsafe water.


UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan underscored the importance of improving stewardship of water resources, stating “Let us use the knowledge and technology at our disposal and do our utmost to protect the world’s precious resources – our lifeline for survival and sustainable development in the 21st century.” UN Deputy Secretary-General, Louise Fréchette, said the main goals for the Year would be to raise awareness, create a platform for creativity with regard to new ideas, technologies and arrangements, and increase participation throughout all segments and levels of society.


As part of the Year's observances, in January 2003 the UN will issue the first edition of the World Water Development Report, a joint effort involving 23 UN agencies and other entities that provides a comprehensive view of today's water problems and offers recommendations for meeting future water demand.


Links to further information

UN news service, 12 December 2002


International Year of Freshwater website






The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recently adopted a General Comment on the right to water, stating that water is a limited natural resource and a public commodity fundamental to life and health. The Committee also held a one-day discussion on the right of water, hearing several speakers emphasize that water should be considered a public commodity, even if delivery services were privatized. Highlighting that over 1 billion people lack access to basic water supply, while several billion lack access to adequate sanitation, the General Comment emphasizes that the 145 Parties to the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights have the duty to progressively realize, without discrimination, the right to water.


The comment indicates that the human right to water entitles everyone to sufficient, affordable, physically accessible, safe and acceptable water for personal and domestic uses. It also notes that the right to water contains both freedoms and entitlements – the freedoms include the right to maintain access to existing water supplies, and the right to be free from interference, such as from arbitrary disconnections or contamination of water supplies.


Addressing the Committee, Sergio Vieira de Mello, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said this initiative would contribute meaningfully to the Third World Water Forum to be held in Japan next March.


Links to further information

Substantive Issues Arising in the Implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 15 on the right to water


Discussions on right to water are outlined at:




Scientists have documented a new global trend of coral bleaching and are linking the cause to climate change. Coral bleaching occurs when stressful conditions such as high temperatures cause corals to expel the microscopic algae that live in their tissues and provide them with food. Over 400 cases of coral bleaching have been documented in 2002, making this the second worst year after the significant bleaching events observed in 1998, which were linked to the El Niño climatic phenomenon that year. Majority of the bleaching records reflect data from the Great Barrier Reef, with other records showing bleaching occurrences in the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, Palau, Maldives, Tanzania, Seychelles, Belize, Ecuador and off the Florida coast of the US.


Released by the WorldFish Center, the International Coral Reef Action Network (ICRAN) and UNEP, these findings are based on a new global coral reef information system called ReefBase, which aims to boost the wellbeing of coral reefs through sustainable management. ReefBase currently holds over 3,800 records dating back to 1963 and includes information on the severity of bleaching. Scientists have used this information to distinguish between low-level bleaching - probably typical to coral reefs across the ages - and recurrent, massive bleaching of entire reefs - potentially a new phenomenon related to climate change. UNEP Executive Director Klaus Töpfer states, “Coral reefs are under threat worldwide from a variety of pressures including unsustainable fishing methods, such as dynamite and cyanide fishing, insensitive tourism, pollution and climate change. Every effort is needed to conserve these vital habitats for fish and other marine life for the benefit of local people who rely upon them for protein and livelihoods.”


Links to further information

ReefBase website


UNEP press release, 28 October 2002






The UN Human Settlements Programme (UN-HABITAT) has established a trust fund aimed at achieving the sanitation goal agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). The “Water and Sanitation Trust Fund” is seen as a key follow-up to the WSSD, which in its Plan of Implementation agreed to halve, by 2015, the proportion of people lacking access to basic sanitation. UN-Habitat Executive Director Anna Tibaijuka expects the trust fund, which has an initial investment of $1 million, to “kick-start a plan of action to meet the targets set in the Millennium Development Goals and the Johannesburg Plan of Implementation concerned with water and sanitation.” According to UNEP’s Global Environment Outlook, 1.1 billion people lacked access to safe drinking water and 2.4 billion lacked adequate sanitation in 2000, resulting in hundreds of millions of cases of water-related diseases, and over 5 million deaths every year, mostly in Africa and Asia.


Links to further information

UN news service, 8 October 2002




Having caught 631 Minke whales this year – 40 below the quota of 671 – Norway’s whalers will be allowed to catch 711 Minke whales next year. “The basic quota is unchanged from last year,”  states Kirsti Henriksen, Deputy Director General of the Fisheries Ministry, who adds that the quota is low enough to avoid depleting Minke stocks. According to the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Norway's whalers actually killed 634 whales in 2002, the biggest catch since Norway resumed commercial whaling in 1993 under a legal objection lodged against the International Whaling Commission's moratorium.


Links to further information

The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, 3 October 2002


Reuters newswire, 7 October 2002




Untreated sewage discharged into coastal waters has the gravest impact on the seas surrounding Asia, the North West Pacific and West Africa, according to a report by UNEP. The report has been prepared by UNEP in response to the sanitation target agreed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD). It finds that over 800 million people living in the South Asian Seas region have no access to basic sanitation services, placing them at the highest risk from sewage-related diseases and death. The second most vulnerable region are the seas of East Asia, where 515 million people live without access to proper sanitation services, followed by the seas of the North West Pacific with 414 million people lacking basic sanitation access.


“This new study highlights the regions where our efforts are most urgently needed. One way of doing this is to set realistic but ambitious Wastewater Emission Targets (WET), echoing those that have been developed in many parts of the world for emissions of toxic chemicals and noxious gases from power stations and factories,” says UNEP Executive Director, Klaus Töpfer. Cees van de Guchte of UNEP's Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-Based Activities (GPA) adds that “One additional target, which we believe is do-able at the global level, is to have a minimum of 20 percent of coastal cities implementing sustainable and environmentally sound water supply and wastewater treatment systems by 2012. This can be met using alternative technological, infrastructure, managerial and financial approaches to the traditional large scale investments, paying due attention to operation and maintenance costs and to equitable water service pricing.”


Links to further information

First draft of the UNEP/GPA Report – Water Supply and Sanitation Coverage in UNEP Regional Seas – Need For Wastewater Emission Targets?


UNEP news release, 3 October 2002



JULY 2002



Norwegian whale products have found their way to Icelandic supermarkets for the first time in 14 years. After announcing that it would begin exporting whale products in January 2001, Norway has officially started trade in whale products with the eight ton shipment of meat and blubber to Iceland. International trade in whale products has been banned by CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, since 1986, the same year a ban on commercial whaling was imposed by the International Whaling Commission. Exploiting a legal loophole, Norway has been conducting commercial whaling since 1993. With a population preferring whale meat to blubber, Norway currently has 1000 tons of stockpiled blubber, which it hopes to offload to Iceland and Japan where blubber is a delicacy. Norway, Iceland and Japan are technically allowed to trade whale products with each other, as the countries have lodged reservations exempting them from the CITES ban.


“Whaling is a matter of principle and the right to self determination,” says Johan Williams, Director-General at the Norwegian Fisheries Ministry. “We cannot let the world opinion rule how we manage our resources.” The fisheries ministry also said it would discuss whale trade with Japan at the end of this month. Sue Fisher, Campaigns Manager of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society has charged Norway and Iceland with arrogant disregard for international rules and human safety, stating that “This decision to resume trade in an internationally protected species not only flies in the face of world opinion that whales should not be exploited, but the Norwegian and Icelandic governments are putting profit ahead of public safety. They know full well that Norway’s whale products are contaminated. Even Japan won't touch them.” Japan recently declined a recent blubber shipment from Norway because levels of contaminants in the blubber of North Atlantic minke whales exceeded advisory levels set for human consumers in Japan.


Links to further information

Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society Press Release, 16 July 2002


Reuters newswire, 22 July 2002


Environmental News Network, 23 July 2002



MAY 2002



After collaborating closely with the WWF since the very establishment of the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, the Ramsar Bureau and WWF have recently concluded a formal collaborative agreement. Claude Martin, Director General of WWF International, and Delmar Blasco, Ramsar�s Secretary General, signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) on 16 May during a Standing Committee meeting in Gland, Switzerland.

In related news, an MOC was also signed between the South Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the Ramsar Bureau. This event took place during an Oceania Ramsar regional meeting in Apia, Samoa. The MOC provides the basis for increased support by SPREP and the Ramsar Bureau to the countries and territories of the region, including with regard to promoting the sustainable use of wetlands, international and regional cooperation, capacity building, and promoting accession to the Ramsar Convention as appropriate. Participants to the meeting in Apia also developed a Joint Work Plan between SPREP and Ramsar.


Links to further information

Photos from the signing ceremonies and the texts of the MOC on the Ramsar website







Japan has announced it will hunt 50 sei whales as part of its scientific research whaling programme this year. Sei whales are currently listed by IUCN, the World Conservation Union, as being endangered. Japan also plans to catch 50 Bryde�s whales, 10 sperm whales and increase its catch of minke whales by 50 percent in the north Pacific under the same research programme.

Japanese officials have also started a local campaign to promote whale products and end the ban on commercial whaling. The next International Whaling Commission meeting will take place in May, and Japanese delegates hope for a vote to end a 15-year moratorium on commercial whaling, claiming that growing whale populations are harming fishing. In other related news, Norway, which resumed commercial whaling in 1993, raised its whaling quota to 674 minke whales, compared with 549 last year. It lifted the ban on whale meat and blubber exports in January 2001, and has announced that it is ready to export to Japan.


Links to further information

ENN environment news, 6 February 2002


Reuters newswire, 15 February 2002


WWF press release, 28 February 2002


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