United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)

Mobile lab to support UN environmental emergency response inaugurated

An innovative mobile laboratory developed by the Netherlands to support international response to environmental emergencies was officially inaugurated by the Ministers of Environment and Development Cooperation in The Hague. The modular unit, known as the Environmental Assessment Module (EAM), can be rapidly deployed for disasters involving hazardous substances, together with the relevant technical expertise and two fully-equipped off-road vehicles. The one vehicle contains a mobile measurement and analysis unit, the other contains materials for logistical support such as satellite equipment and GPS. The entire unit can be transported in a cargo aircraft. When deployed, the EAM will be supported by a knowledge network of research institutions and Ministries in the Netherlands to ensure affected countries receive the best available support.

Angela Cropper, the Deputy Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme, said: 'This rapidly deployable mobile laboratory will help us to fulfil the urgent need to address environmental emergencies from their onset. This is an excellent example of integrating environmental and humanitarian concerns'. 

The EAM will be used to assess effects of environmental disasters. It will mainly be deployed in countries that lack the specialist knowledge or capacity needed to deal with environmental disasters. The development of the EAM is a joint initiative of the Netherlands’ Ministry of Housing, Spatial Planning and the Environment and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, following recommendations by the international Advisory Group on Environmental Emergencies. Its development and deployment over a five-year period involves a commitment by the Netherlands of €1 million. Staff to operate the EAM will be taught how to work under difficult circumstances, deal with different cultures, and work as a team to assist the United Nations.

The Environmental Assessment Module will be deployed only at the request of the UN or other international organisations wishing to make use of the expertise it provides. Countries themselves may also ask the Netherlands for help directly. A primary client of the EAM will be the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit (JEU), a collaborative effort between two UN bodies – the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). A leader in the field of environmental emergencies, the JEU works with affected countries to identify and mitigate acute negative impacts stemming from disasters, providing independent, impartial advice and practical solutions. The Jeu most recently responded to assist the Government of the Philippines with a capsized ferry full of toxic pesticides.

“I wish to extend heartfelt thanks to the Netherlands for their long-standing commitment to supporting our endeavour to respond even more rapidly and effectively,” said Gerhard Putman-Cramer, Chief of OCHA’s Emergency Services Branch and Deputy Director of OCHA-Geneva. “In doing so, they continue to set an important example for the international community, and raise the quality standards for international response to humanitarian and environmental crises around the world.”

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