‘Stop the POPs’ promoting clean air for Pacific people

Clean air, land and sea for healthy people is the focus of the new "Stop the POPs" Pacific campaign led by the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, revealed this week at the Asia-Pacific Ministerial Forum on the Environment in Bangkok.

Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are toxic chemicals that can travel long distances through air and water, and build up in the fatty tissues of humans and other animals.

Burning waste, especially plastic waste, is a big source of POPs for the Pacific region. Waste management is a significant challenge in space-limited island environments, leading many to burn plastics and other rubbish.

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SPREP Planning and Capacity Adviser, Jope Davetanivalu, with Hon. Taefu Lemi, Associate Minister, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Samoa. Photo: T.Straza

"Pollution is a priority issue for our region, and governments and industries need strong agreements to control and safely dispose of the materials that contain or create POPs" said Hon. Mr Taefu Lemi, Associate Minister, Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment of Samoa. Hon. Lemi is representing one of the eight Pacific island countries also present at the APMF.

"The health of our ocean needs to be a priority for all of us in the Pacific, and POPs can harm our marine life and us."

POPs do not degrade quickly over time – and so can potentially expose people to serious health issues including cancer, birth defects, and immune system impairments. Many POPs have uses in pest and disease control, crop production and industrial processes and are produced intentionally for specific purposes. Other POPs are produced as unintentional by-products of human activities, such as through the burning of waste materials and in the manufacture of chemicals.

Many people have an occupational exposure to POPs, particularly women who, in the Pacific, tend to have a high level of exposure to smoke as a result of cooking over open fires. The new "Stop the POPs" Campaign is designed to help raise awareness of the dangers of POPs, bringing about changes in Pacific lifestyles.

"We are also working with our SPREP Members to reduce levels of POPs starting from national legislation and going all the way to communities and individual practices as part of a Pacific regional project," said Dr Frank Griffin, Hazardous Waste Management Adviser with the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

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Known as the GEFPAS sPOPs project, the 'Global Environment Facility Pacific Alliance for Sustainability Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Release Reduction Project' through improved management of solid and hazardous waste', is a 5 year, US $ 3.75 million project.

Having started in 2013, the Project is funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF) supported with Agence Franaise de Developpement (AFD) co-funding, that is implemented through the United Nations Environment Programme (UN Environment) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and executed by Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP).

The project is designed to address the incomplete coverage of issues relating to POPs in existing legislation and the low levels of monitoring and enforcement of existing laws.

The link between purchasing and pollution management was stressed by many at the Ministerial Forum on the Environment, an ideal event to launch the 'Stop the POPs' campaign.

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Mr Pita Tagicakirewa, Counsellor and Alternative Permanent Representative to ESCAP, Fiji High Commission, Malaysia; H.E. Lorna Eden, Assistant Minister for Local Government, Housing and Environment, Fiji, and Mr. Jope Davetanivalu, SPREP Planning and Capacity Adviser.

"What you buy is what you breathe," said H.E. Mr. Masagos Zulkifli, Minister of the Environment and Water Resources, Singapore, in the Ministerial dialogue Towards a resource-efficient and pollution-free Asia-Pacific region.

"The R we have added to the standard 3R, is Refuse so for us the slogan is 'reduce, refuse, reuse and recycle'. The addition of 'refuse' recognises that government can lead by example with green procurement policies," said Ms. Imogen Ingram from Island Sustainability Alliance (ISACI) Island Sustainability Alliance (ISACI), a Cook Islands non-government organisation, during the opening of the senior officials segment of the second Forum of Ministers and Environment Authorities of Asia and the Pacific.

"We advocate for non-incineration methods of waste management because burning releases organic pollutants."

"Supporting Pacific countries to develop legislation restricting the import of harmful substances not only protects people and our environment but also gives businesses better choices, and is part of reducing our dependence on plastics," said Mr. Sefanaia Nawadra, Head of UN Environment Pacific.

The seventh Asia Pacific Ministerial Summit on the Environment was jointly organised by the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) and UN Environment. It brought together over 50 countries from 5 to 8 September 2017 in Bangkok, Thailand.

The Pacific islands are represented by Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Republic of the Marshall Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, and Vanuatu.

For more information, please visit: http://www.apministerialenv.org/

For more about the GEFPAS POPs Project, please visit: http://www.sprep.org/gefpaspops/home

You can learn how to Stop the POPs with the new video and fact sheet available from SPREP.
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