UN Enviroment Programme

Chapter 10. Status of soil pollution in Near East and North Africa

International, regional and national legal frameworks addressing soil pollution in Near East and North Africa

In the majority of cases, the rules set by national action programs (NAPs) and multilateral agreements are of voluntary nature and hence their adoption and implementation could have a limited beneficial impact.

10.5.1. International legal frameworks addressing soil pollution

Increasing amounts of waste, particularly in urbanized areas, is becoming a significant issue of the NENA region, which is reflected in a high rate of countries that have ratified the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Convention.

Of the international conventions that have a relevance to soil pollution, the Basel Convention and the Stockholm Convention are the only ones that have been ratified by all 20 countries in the region (Table 2). Sixteen countries ratified the Basel Convention before 2000, highlighting their national priorities to address waste management issues. As with the Basel Convention, the Stockholm Convention was ratified by most NENA countries in the years immediately following its adoption in 2001. It is worth noting that 16 countries were signatories of the Stockholm Convention, compared to only seven for the Basel Convention (Table 2). Iraq and Palestine are the most recent parties who have ratified the Stockholm Convention (2016 and 2017, respectively) and Basel Convention, (2011 and 2015, respectively).

The Ministry of Environment is commonly the designated national authority with responsibility for the Basel Convention. On 5 December 2019, the Basel Convention Ban Amendment was ratified. It prohibits developed countries from exporting hazardous waste to developing countries. It requires developed countries to improve the treatment and disposal of dangerous wastes at the local level. All countries, apart from Yemen, have approved the amendment.

Although only five of the countries signed the Rotterdam Convention, as of 2020, 18 had ratified it (Table 2). Algeria has ratified the Convention in July 2020, which entered into force in October 2020. Egypt is the only country not to have ratified the Rotterdam Convention. As with the Basel Convention and the Stockholm Convention, Iraq and Palestine were the countries in the region to have most recently ratified the Rotterdam Convention, both in 2017. The countries have selected a variety of the ministries as their designated national authorities for the convention including the ministries of Environment, Foreign Affairs, Health, Public Works, Energy, and Agriculture.

As of 2020, eleven countries have ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury. All these ratifications have taken place since 2015, with Iran (Islamic Republic of), Lebanon, and the Syrian Arab Republic ratifying the convention in 2017, Palestine and Saudi Arabia in 2019, and Oman and Qatar in the second half of 2020.

Further details on the ratification and implementation of the Basel, Rotterdam, Stockholm and Minamata Convention in the NENA region are presented in Table 2.

Table 2. International legislation adopted in the NENA region.

Source: Basel Convention, 2019; Minamata Convention, 2020; Rotterdam Convention, 2019; Stockholm Convention, 2019.

10.5.2. Regional legal frameworks addressing soil pollution

Most of the regional conventions related to environmental protection focus on marine and coastal protection from pollution by oil and other substances discharged from ships, rather than land and soil protection. Although these conventions may not address soil pollution directly, they mention land-based pollution and seek to reduce its impact on coastal and marine environments.

With the exception of the Barcelona Convention for the protection of the Mediterranean Sea against pollution, regional agreements affecting NENA countries tend to be for either African or Arabic countries. North African countries are implicated in the “African Convention on the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources” and the “Bamako Convention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa”.

In the Near East, regional conventions for the protection of marine and coastal environment from pollution are the most frequently ratified legal instruments that could be related to soil pollution. As part of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf by Resolution No. 89 of 2006, Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates ratified the Law 24 from 2006. This law covers soil improvement, the quality of imported mineral and organic fertilizers and amendments, and controls soil pollution imported with plants (Error! Not a valid bookmark self-reference.). Another regional agreement was adopted in 2001, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, aimed at the creation of a common market for agricultural production and environmental protection between Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates.

Further details on the regional agreements related to soil pollution prevention in the NENA region can be found in Table 3.

Table 3. Regional agreements addressing soil pollution in the NENA region

10.5.3. National legal frameworks addressing soil pollution

While all countries in the NENA region have a legal instrument related to the protection of the environment, which covers water, vegetation and land, only a few countries have specific legislation on soil. The countries in the region follow different approaches to enforce legislation and implement laws on soil protection against pollution, which are dependent of different authorities. Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Jordan, Sudan and Yemen have specific regulations on soil pollution, while Lebanon, Syrian Arab Republic, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia and United Arab Emirates have regulations focusing on soil conservation and soil erosion. The main national laws targeting soil pollution are listed in Table 4.

Several countries have enacted legislation on integrated solid waste management. As of 2020, they have not all been fully implemented, as only a small proportion of wastes is treated and recycled, while more than 50 percent is dumped in non-sanitary landfills. The issue is not technical preparation, but the lack of sufficient funds in some countries to build and maintain the functionality of treatment plants. In cases where international assistance has been received, project continuity has not been well planned and, often, waste treatment operations have ceased immediately following project completion.

The Iranian Environmental Protection Law IRN-1974-L-84327 specifies rules and measures for the protection and management of the environment, including soil pollution. Related regulations focus on capacity building and public awareness of environmental protection. The Iraqi Law on the protection and improvement of the environment established a Council for the protection and improvement of the environment. It also laid down rules defining responsibility for environmental pollution and the obligation to use clean technologies, and established a suitable environmental policy (Donovan, 2010). The law recommended the use of sensors for pollution, monitoring and control, and the use of renewable energy technologies. It regulated the discharge of domestic, industrial and agricultural effluents and soil protection.

In 1995, Yemen adopted its law on the environment protection, which covers: environmental protection; pollution control; the protection, preservation and development of natural resources; water and soil protection; and the control and monitoring of pesticides. The Kuwaiti Environmental Protection Law aims to protect and maintain the natural balance of the environment and its resources by combating pollution. The Qatar Environment Protection Law of 2002 established the Ministry of Municipality and Environment aimed at the protection and conservation of the environment. The new Ministry identified land-based sources of pollution and gave priority to environmental protection. Under Bahrain’s Decree-Law no (2) of 1995 on Wildlife Conservation and its implementation, edicts were issued with the aim of protecting the environment, maintaining the natural balance and combating all forms of pollution (Ahmed, 2018).

Egypt’s Law 4/1994, as amended by Law 9/2009, is the national environmental coordination framework that regulates the general policy and the plans necessary for the protection and promotion of the environment. The Libyan Law No. 7 of 1982 on the protection of the environment deals with the protection of air, water, soil and food. It also established the Technical Centre for the Protection of the Environment with a mandate to draw up plans and programs to eliminate the causes of pollution. Other implicit regulations in Egypt deal with the agricultural value of mud for soil improvement, agriculture and rural development, soil erosion, soil pollution from contaminated water, air quality and marine pollution.

The environmental situation in Palestine is complex since 1967, as the legal framework governing environmental issues in the West Bank was the Jordanian Law of Public Health #43 (1966). This law dealt with issues such as garbage dumping, sewage, and the protection of water resources (Amra, 1998). By 1995, the Environmental Planning Directorate was established within the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation. These laws perceived a conflict between increased economic development and environmental protection.

In 1988, Tunisia established the National Environmental Protection Agency and issued several laws related to biodiversity, water and the sea (Wildlife Protection Law No. 88-20; the Water Pollution Law No. 75-16; and the Marine Pollution Law No. 75-16). However, ineffective legal instruments and lack of staff and resources had led to weak and inconsistent enforcement of environmental legislation (IPR, 1999).

Since 2003, Morocco was laying the foundations for strengthening its environmental policy; up to then policies tended to be general and dealt mainly with water management issues (UN Economic Commission for Europe and UN Economic Commission for Africa, 2012). Three important environmental laws were approved in 2003, namely the laws on environmental protection and conservation, combating air pollution and environmental impact assessment. In 2007, the former German Agency for Technical Cooperation (GTZ) identified gaps in the legal system, the implementation of environmental legislation and weak institutional mechanisms for enforcement and compliance (Adelphi, 2007), which are also relevant at present (GIZ, 2015). In 2014, the country also adopted a National Charter for Environment and Sustainable Development.

The Syrian Environmental Affairs Law No. 50 of 2002 and Implementing Regulation No. 478/S/B/GH/J of 2004 defined national environmental problems, while encouraging research and scientific studies to address and resolve them. The law defines the general policy and national strategy for environmental protection and for developing public awareness of environmental protection and safety. In addition to the establishment of the Environment Protection and Support Fund, it specified responsibilities, compensation for damage, the offences and penalties for those responsible for pollution.

Jordan’s Environmental Protection Law No. 6 was adopted in 2017 and defined the mandate of the Ministry of Environment. The ensuing decrees and laws regulated the establishment of the Department of Environmental Protection and creation of the environmental protection fund. The law sets the framework for environmental protection and defines the procedure to deal with hot spots of pollution. Decree No. 37 of 2018 regulated the establishment and role of the Department of Environmental Protection, while the Environmental Protection Fund Law No. 18 of 2018 provided a mechanism to finance environmental actions and the dissemination of environmental awareness.

El Jor with the Blue Plan, Regional Activity Center (2000) studied solid waste management in five countries: Cyprus, Egypt, Lebanon and Syrian Arab Republic and Tunisia. Composting is a common practice for Egypt and Syria. The identification of suitable locations for landfills is a recurrent problem for other countries that have insufficient compositing capacity, notably Lebanon who neglects hazardous waste management. Tunisia produces most hazardous waste compared to the other four countries, followed by Egypt and Syria.. Tunisia and Egypt are developing procedures and regulations on hazardous waste. The report further stipulated that: “Assessment of the legal and policy environment for solid waste management found that environmental legislation is most developed in Tunisia, followed by Lebanon and Egypt. However, the existing environmental laws in Egypt and Lebanon have a purely “cleaning” or “public health” approach to solid waste management. Tunisia was the only country that seemed to include objectives like increased recycling, reuse and reduction of waste in its environmental laws and policies. It was also the only country that used economic policy instruments to reach environmental objectives. The countries with environmental laws suffered from a lack of enforcement capabilities, especially at the local level.”

Algeria has no specific legislation to prevent and control soil pollution but has enacted various laws on air contamination (carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, oxides of nitrogen, sulphur dioxide); water pollution (nitrates); industrial wastes; wastewater; transport; dangerous wastes (pesticides, grey water, animal wastes); soil erosion; and soil salinity. The « Loi nº 84-12 du 23 Juin 1984 portant régime général des forêts » is the only available regulatory instrument in Algeria dealing with soil conservation and soil erosion from a forestry perspective (Law N 84-12). Algeria’s National Action Program to Combat Desertification (NAP, 2003) focused on the pollution of coastal ecosystems by trace elements and microbes from more than 50 effluent discharge points in lowland water channels.

Oman has put in place a series of laws to protect its land and territorial waters from pollution. Habitat protection has been achieved through the environmental permit system implemented under Sultani Decree 10/82 (now replaced by Sultani Decree 114/01) (Curtis, Mallet-Prevost, Colt & Mosle LLP, 2017). The Sultanate has always sought to strike a balance between development needs and the environment.

The law on environmental protection (law 444/2002) in Lebanon, under the authority of the Ministry of Environment, covers water, soil, biodiversity and other natural resources, and has filled some gaps in Lebanese regulations (Darwish, 2012). Nevertheless, this law is still pending the full adoption of executive decrees partly approved and issued by the cabinet of ministers. Law 80/2018 on integrated solid waste management was in the country’s first solid waste management law of 2018 (HRW, 2019). Its implementation is pending the development of the solid waste disposal strategy by the Ministry of Environment.

Table 4. National legislation to prevent and combat soil pollution in the NENA region.

Source: FAOLEX, 2019.

As noted, there are a large number of laws covering environmental protection. However, most of these laws are old, fragmented, poorly implemented, general and no longer consistent with sustainable land and soil management and participatory approaches and collective responsibility for environmental protection (EC, 2000). Between 2010 and 2020, several countries like Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Syrian Arab Republic, and United Arab Emirates upgraded their legislations for environmental management and integrated solid waste management (Table 4). There is an urgent need to update the legislation in other countries and strengthen its enforcement to protect the limited soil resources in the region.