UN Enviroment Programme

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

National and regional priorities in Near East and North Africa

According to the literature reviewed and comments from NENA experts, the priority areas related to soil pollution are:

  • the generation of dust affecting air quality, water, vegetation cover and soil;
  • sewage and wastewater sludge use in agriculture;
  • industrial waste management; and
  • emissions from transport and energy production.

From a remediation perspective, national priorities generally focus on important environmental problems that pose potential health risks and cause environmental damage.

Most countries lack both specific laws on soil pollution and a designated institution with responsibility and sufficient resources to regulate it. In many cases, the responsibility for regulating pollution is split among a number of institutions with poorly defined competencies. This situation makes it complicated to address environmental issues in a coordinated manner. However, national action plans (NAPs) can be a good strategy for setting country priorities and defining the way forward to achieve the desired future.

Many NAPs include the objective to combat desertification through the adoption of environmental protection laws and pollution control laws. Egypt’s NAP focuses on soil degradation with much attention given to salinity, erosion, drought and loss of fertility, as well as the conservation of land resources through pollution prevention or remediation. In Iran (Islamic Republic of) (Forest, Range and Watershed Management Organization, 2005) and the Syrian Arab Republic (Syrian Arab Republic, 1997), the NAP focuses on reducing water and environmental pollution.

Lebanon’s NAP aims to minimize the impact of trace elements on soil quality through the treatment of pollution sources such as industrial discharges, uncontrolled dumping of solid and toxic waste, and the discharge of untreated municipal and industrial wastewater. Industrial pollution from point sources is a concern, particularly from cement, paper, pharmaceutical, paint and plastics manufacture, as well as from thermal power plants and refineries. Another concern is the inappropriate use of fertilizers in intensive agriculture, which leads to soil and water pollution.

The United Arab Emirates’ National Strategy and Action Plan for Environmental Health (2010) included as priorities: the impact of climate change; air, water and soil pollution; and groundwater and food contamination due to solid and hazardous waste disposal. Urban soil pollution was identified as a top priority. Targets have been set to reduce the level of contaminants, reduce human exposure to them and improve environmental awareness. To reduce the level of contaminations from hazardous wastes, the National Strategy designed policies to minimize waste production. The Strategy identified the need for effective management and monitoring of pollution with the establishment baseline and future targets and indicators for this purpose.

The United Arab Emirates’ National Strategy grouped health and environmental risks into 10 categories (Willis et al., 2010). The categories are:

  1. ambient and indoor air pollution;
  2. drinking water contamination;
  3. coastal water pollution;
  4. soil and groundwater contamination;
  5. contamination of fruits, vegetables, and seafood;
  6. ambient noise;
  7. stratospheric ozone depletion;
  8. electromagnetic fields from power lines;
  9. health impacts from climate change; and
  10. exposure to hazardous substances in industrial, construction, and agricultural work environments.

The approved priority process ranked outdoor and indoor ambient air quality as the most important challenge, while soil and groundwater pollution was assigned a minimal risk rating. These priorities form the basis for the elaboration and implementation of a national mitigation plan.

Oman’s action plan to control pollution mainly focuses on air quality and local daily and monthly levels of contaminants near the industrial or natural gas plant in order to understand background values and pollution levels prior to the construction of additional industrial plants (Abdul-Wahab, 2005). The Basic Law of Oman (RD 101-1996), which can be regarded as the constitution, considers environmental protection and pollution prevention as a national priority. An integrated assessment of ambient air, water and soil quality can add value to Oman’s basic laws. On March 5, 2018 Oman signed a memorandum with the United States of America to strengthen national capacities for environmental protection and enforcement of environmental laws.

The Algerian Action Plan of 2002 identified the deficient institutional framework of the country, caused by the fragmentation of the regulations and the lack of their implementation due to the weakness in enforcement capacity (PNAE-DD, 2002). Despite the establishment of the Ministry of “Land Use Planning and Environment”, the lack of the technical staff and the scarcity of funding undermined its ability to assess and monitor pollution. This situation was aggravated by the absence of coordination between ministerial departments and environmental institutions and the marginal role of civil society. It also highlighted as a priority issue the uncontrolled disposal of non-treated sewage and industrial waters, solid wastes, transport and energy sectors in Oran, Annaba and Skikda. This had been responsible for bacteriological pollution and pollution by lead, mercury, copper, zinc and chromium and hydrocarbons to concentrations up to 5 times higher than normal values.

The Libyan Law No. 7 of 1982 on the protection of the environment addresses the protection of air, water, soil and food. It established the Technical Centre for the Protection of the Environment with mandates to remove the causes of pollution. However in 2018, pollution in Libya remained a major threat, mainly in cities, due to the lack of effective enforcement of the environmental law (Hurrell, 2018).

Sudan (the) ratified the Stockholm Convention in 2006 and is thus committed to manage and phase-out the POPs as stipulated in the Convention. The Sudanese Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources and Physical Development is in the process of establishing the Environment Information Monitoring System (MoENRPD, 2020).

In Mauritania, despite the existence of a comprehensive environmental legal and regulatory framework, the application of environmental mechanisms remained inconsistent (Ministère de l’Environnement et du Développement Durable, 2007). In addition, there was a general lack of knowledge of international regulatory texts and Mauritania’s commitments under international conventions. This created a barrier between international and national regulations, and limited the country’s access to international funds to support their implementation of the conventions. A significant lack in information and its effective communication hindered objective and effective decision-making. Furthermore, women’s participation in the environmental components of the various rural development projects and programmes was very limited.