For tourists who love the Mediterranean, recent meetings of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) should have special interest. In Athens, concerned governments met to deal with political and diplomatic matters leading toward a treaty to control pollution. In Split, experts in socio-economic matters dealt with long-term theoretical programs. Following are reports on both sessions.
Despite disagreements between developed and developing countries and the need for yet another conference, the Mediterranean nations are apparently serious about fighting pollution that threatens them all.
Said one delegate to the recent conference here on how to combat Mediterranean pollution from land-based sources:
"How can we expect a tourist to come to our country and then tell him, you can't eat our fish or bathe in our waters. And don't forget your shots."
Held under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), and attended by 16 of the 18 Mediterranean states, the week-long conference was charged with accepting or rejecting a set of UNEP proposals that would lay the basis for a treaty to ban or control a host of pollutants, and polluting factors, coming from sewers, industries and pesticides. All of them are now spewed into the Mediterranean, making it one of the world's most polluted bodies of water for its size.
Scientists have long warned that the largest part of sea pollution originates from these man-made, land-based sources. Around 90 per cent of the municipal sewage dumped into the sea's once-azure waters has not undergone full biological treatment, according to specialists assembled here.
"The Athens experts must tell us," said UNEP's European director, Peter Thacher, before the conference began, "how strict a control their governments are prepared to accept, and how fast they are willing to go."
According to conference chairman and Greek foreign under secretary Constantine Stavropoulos, it was the industrial nations, fearing the cost factor and reaping less benefit from tourism, who consistently held back.
"The less industrialized states were asking for very rapid elimination," said Stavropoulos of the final principles which, compared to UNEP's originals, were toned down considerably. "The highly industrial nations wanted a gradual approach, however. They said they cannot charge overnight."
Other conference sources confirm that vested economic interests were a key problem during the sometimes heated debates, and that a number of disagreements arose between the Mediterranean's developed and developing nations, on funding, timetables and general priorities for change.
Consequently there was no agreement on precisely what pollutants should be banned from being dumped into the Mediterranean, or on which should be strictly controlled. There was also no agreement on a specific timetable for action. These and other unresolved issues will be discussed at a follow-up conference in Venice this October.
"These are highly complex problems," said UNEP's Thacher, who remains hopeful that the draft treaty will be ready by the end of the year. "Each country has different values it wants to safeguard . . . different priorities emerge."
"There is no question that this has been our most serious, and therefore most controversial, session," said Yugoslav marine scientist Stjepan Keckes, who coordinates UNEP's monitoring and research program in the Med.
"Past treaties dealt with oil spills and dumping, which are of little importance concerning the specific sources which are land-based. Therefore, this document will be the only legal instrument that can reverse the present trend . . . and people are consequently afraid, quite correctly, that it will cost them money . . . The magnitude of the problem is apparent. Just look at the differing levels of development in the Mediterranean, their economies, their politics. Just look at a map!"
Having brought together Arabs and Israelis at the same table, Algrians and Moroccans, Greeks and Turks, conference organizers are confident that despite the disagreements, the Mediterranean nations are serious about combating pollution and are determined to act.
"Perhaps in the final analysis, the main question is: Can and will a developing. Tourism is their economic base."
One needs only to look at the sea's no-longer translucent waters, at its ports of oily cesspools, at the tar balls, garbage and sewage heaped upon its shores. For five millennia, the Mediterranean nourished its inhabitants. Today, many species of fish are becoming extinct.
There is thus general agreement that waste spewed into the Mediterranean, from the burgeoning factories, steel mills and oil refineries rising from its shores, must be stopped before the sea chokes on man's excesses.
"What we're trying to do now is reverse the trend of man's abuses," said one delegate. "Then the Med must flush itself and renew its waters. That will take at least 100 years.