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UN:  Afghanistan, Palestinian Areas Environmentally Devastated by Years of War - 2003-02-17

The United Nations has issued two reports on the environmental effects of years of conflict in Afghanistan and the occupied Palestinian territories.

The report on Afghanistan by the United Nations Environment Program says two decades of fighting there has caused widespread damage throughout the country.

Much of the groundwater in the cities is contaminated because of the dumping of chemicals and other dangerous substances. Air pollution is also a serious hazard because many city dwellers burn plastic waste.

Pekka Haavisto, a senior official of the U.N.'s Environment Program, says although fighting has ended in most parts of Afghanistan, the environmental damage is continuing. Many of the country's forest areas are declining.

"The reasons have been mainly the illegal cutting of the forests, the illegal forest trade over the border from the Afghanistan to Pakistan side," he said. "Of course, different warlords have been benefiting from this raw material being taken in an uncontrolled way, continuing logging. And then also, the refugee flows that have been passed through some areas and have used the forest for some heating and construction."

The report on the environmental damage in the Palestinian territories provides equally grim reading.

Mr. Haavisto says sewage and waste water systems have been destroyed. He says the quality of groundwater is terrible in the cities and towns of the territories, primarily because of pollution from hazardous pesticides and chemicals used in agriculture.

He also says a security fence that Israel is building to separate the West Bank from Israeli territory poses many environmental concerns.

"One [is] that now many villages are isolated from their water resources or from their wells," Mr. Haavisto said. "The second [is] that this fence was cutting the ecological corridors, the natural ecological corridors and causing a lot of problems to the biodiversity of the area."

Mr. Haavisto says the environmental problems in the occupied territories only can be resolved with the cooperation of the Israeli and Palestinian authorities, and he says his U.N. group has begun to work with both sides to gain their trust and cooperation.