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Swiss call for stronger defence of environment

Swiss officials say a clean environment can help guarantee clean drinking water for all Keystone Archive

Swiss officials are expected to demand the reinforcement of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) at a meeting this week in Nairobi.

This content was published on February 21, 2005 - 13:54

The head of the Swiss environment agency, Philippe Roch, will also call for improved protection of the world’s drinking-water reserves.

A healthy environment will be the focus of the UNEP meeting at its headquarters in the Kenyan capital.

Officials will be looking at how to bolster global, regional and national environments, with the aim of achieving the UN’s Millennium Development Goals on reducing hunger, poverty and disease by the target date of 2015.

Issues to be discussed include sanitation, drinking water, protecting forests and the ozone layer.

Switzerland is a member of UNEP’s governing council and therefore helps set the organisation’s budget.

Intact ecosystems

Philippe Roch, who will head the Swiss delegation in Nairobi, said that any decision made at the meeting would have wider political implications.

He added that poverty would be one of the biggest issues up for discussion.

"We have to figure out how protecting the environment can help fight poverty," he told swissinfo.

Switzerland has stressed the importance of providing access to clean drinking water as one way of helping to alleviate poverty.

However, this can only be guaranteed if ecosystems such as forests and wetlands are kept intact.

According to Roch, international water policy must be reinforced. He believes that polluted drinking water and diminishing reserves are two of this century’s biggest problems.

"Switzerland will insist that UNEP takes a leading role in informing people of the importance of these ecosystems for water supplies and for combating poverty," he said. "But populations will need help to protect these resources."

Political leadership

The Swiss also want UNEP to be the reference for international environmental policy and to reinforce its role on the world stage.

"We need, for example, to increase UNEP’s budget," Roch told swissinfo. "But we have to make each country’s contribution public, to convince them to put more into the programme."

Switzerland also wants UNEP’s role as the repository of most environmental conventions to be upgraded.

"We need the UNEP to play a leading role when it comes to defending the conventions," said Roch.

"But to achieve that, the organisation needs political leadership," he added. "Countries like Switzerland can provide that."

swissinfo, Christian Raaflaub

In brief

One of the most important UN Millenium Development Goals is to halve the number of people without access to clean drinking water.

South Asia - India, Bagladesh, Bhutan and Nepal - is well on the way to reaching this target.

In this region, around two thirds of the population had access to this water in 1990, whereas today the figure stands at approximately 80 per cent.

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