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Global Environmental Emergency Forum calls for measures to improve disaster preparedness and response

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Strengthened governance, operational guidelines, better distribution of expertise and equipment key components to success

Brussels, Belgium - 8 May 2009 - Strengthened governance, clear operational guidelines, and better distribution of expertise and equipment are key components to improving preparedness and response to environmental emergencies, an international forum has declared.

During its biennial meeting that concluded today in Brussels, the Advisory Group on Environmental Emergencies (AGEE) called for strengthening of the international governance framework for the response to environmental emergencies, and for improving operational aspects of offering, requesting, providing, and receiving international assistance during such disasters.

"Both are needed if efforts to better multilateral preparedness and response to environmental emergencies worldwide are to be realized," said Toni Frisch, Deputy Director-General, Head of Humanitarian Aid Department, Chair of this year's meeting.

The AGEE also noted that having a readily-available pool of diverse expertise and equipment located in a wider variety of countries around the world was needed to respond to environmental emergencies -- particularly in the event of travel restrictions, which could prevent life-saving assistance from getting to where it is needed most.

This year's meeting was co-organized by the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit and the European Commission's Monitoring and Information Centre, part of the Civil Protection Mechanism of the EC's Directorate-General for Environment.

The AGEE is a unique international forum that brings together environmental experts, disaster managers, and policy makers from around the world to share information, experiences and lessons learned to improve prevention, preparedness and response to environmental emergencies worldwide.

The AGEE defines environmental emergencies as rapid onset natural or man-made disasters whose impact on ecosystems causes or threatens to cause significant harm to human well-being and livelihoods.

"With growing evidence of increased and more destructive natural disasters due to climate change, we must focus on building the world's capacity to prevent, prepare for and response to environmental emergencies," said Gerhard Putman-Cramer, Chief of the Emergency Services Branch of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, in opening remarks to AGEE participants.

"We must do this also be ensuring that more national governments, organizations, corporations and individuals are involved," said Ibrahim Thiaw, Director of the UN Environment Programme's Department of Environmental Policy Implementation, also in an opening statement to the forum. "The deliberations and advice of the AGEE are therefore vital in ensuring that the global framework for environmental emergency preparedness and response can meet these challenges."

The AGEE also reviewed the work plan of the Joint UNEP/OCHA Environment Unit, the principal United Nations mechanism to mobilize and coordinate international assistance for environmental emergencies. The Joint Environment Unit, which serves as Secretariat for the AGEE, celebrates its 15th anniversary this year. Created in July 1994, it is a special partnership that makes best use of existing capacities withn each of the two organizations - specifically, UNEP's environmental expertise and OCHA's humanitarian response and coordination capacities.

AGEE 8 also served as the occasion for the inaugural edition of the Green Star Awards for excellence in preventing, preparing for, and responding to, environmental emergencies. The first-ever Green Star awardees were the Governments of the Netherlands and Sweden; the Spiez Laboratory of Switzerland; the Center for Scientific Support in Disaster Situations (CENACID), of Brazil's Paraná Federal University; and Mike Cowing, a long-time environmental expert currently working for UNEP's Post-Conflict and Disaster Management Branch. (For further information on the Green Star Awards, please see www.unep.org/greenstar)

For further information, please contact: OCHA

Nick Nuttal, UNEP - + 254 20 7623084 / mobile + 254 733 632755 / nick.nuttall@unep.org

UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
To learn more about OCHA's activities, please visit https://www.unocha.org/.