United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Major environmental issues arising for Haiti recovery

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Two weeks after the 7.0 magnitude earthquake that struck Haiti on 12 January, a massive humanitarian operation is underway and aid is beginning to reach those who desperately need it in Port-au-Prince and the surrounding areas. The most urgent priorities remain water, health care, shelter and food.

Thanks to a team of senior experts on the ground, UNEP continues to provide technical assistance and support on environmental matters to the Humanitarian Country Team and to the local government, including through emergency environmental assessments of affected sites and active participation in the humanitarian cluster system.

Field-based rapid assessments since 13 January have identified a number of major environmental issues for the short and medium term, including:

Medical waste: Emergency response operations are currently generating a very significant amount of medical waste, which is piling up in hospitals and medical treatment centers. No systems or equipment are yet in place to dispose of these potentially hazardous materials. UNEP is working with the Haitian Government and WHO to establish an appropriate containment space and handling procedures for this waste in the Port-au-Prince area.

Rubble and demolition material: In the epicenter and highly affected areas, the percentage of destruction or severe damage to buildings and other structures is 60-80%. The volume of demolition waste potentially generated by recovery and reconstruction operations has yet to be technically estimated, but will be in tens of millions of tons. Recycling efforts are already being observed, but debris is also being dumped in large quantities on the roadsides. Unless this issue is managed properly, additional environmental impacts will arise. UNEP is working with number of other partners to develop a Debris Management Strategy for Port-au-Prince and environs.

Secondary spills and hazardous chemicals: Recovery and reconstruction operations will in time work over a large number of badly damaged small industry and storage sites. This implies a risk of oil and chemical spills. The extent and impact of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) from sources like damaged electric transformers also need to be assessed.

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