UN Enviroment Programme

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

Knowledge gaps in Near East and North Africa

Tackling the environmental risks of pollution requires both a technical and a political approach. The issues and problems need to be clearly identified, technical and legal frameworks developed for their resolution, and technical guidelines and legislation elaborated. Technical assessment surveys on soil pollution and soil remediation should not only be oriented towards laboratory assays, pilot sites and peer- reviewed journals, but should also address polluted sites and target decision-makers. This would assist in linking science and policy and building a bridge between knowledge and awareness.

10.7.1. Policy, legislative and regulatory gaps

NENA countries prioritize the mapping of industrial atmospheric emissions, as well as the collection of geochemical data from geological maps, which facilitate the determination of background values of trace elements. However, no country regularly monitors and assesses soil contaminants such as trace elements, emerging contaminants, asbestos, radionuclides, plastics and chlorinated hydrocarbons. No information was found on regular monitoring of semi-volatile organic compounds, flame retardants, ingredients in cleaning agents, personal care products, solvents and chemicals used in textile and electronics manufacturing, or perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS).

Technology for the analysis of chlorinated hydrocarbons is available in many countries in the NENA region, but none of these countries carries out these analyses on a regular basis.

A review of the literature and feedback from some NENA experts confirmed the lack of reliable information on the areas affected by point and diffuse sources of pollution. It is difficult to find reliable reports or statistics on chemical and organic inputs to agricultural soils and their quality, the number of contaminated sites and the level of contamination. There is also a significant lack of information on the number of sites under remediation.

Only partial information was found on the tonnage of urban, liquid and industrial waste that is generated and the proportion that is managed in an environmentally sound manner.

10.7.2. Science to policy gaps

The management of polluted soils requires a database of georeferenced soils to enable their mapping and characterization. This step is essential to make an inventory of soil resources and a quality assessment in order to establish soil conservation strategies and identify green spots to protect and hot spots to remediate. Most countries in the NENA region do not have a functional system of detailed soil information. Although most NENA countries have a soil map, these maps are small-scale, rarely publicly available, and are not regularly updated. Therefore, it is recommended that soil institutes and decision-makers in the NENA region should invest first in updating and scaling up georeferenced soil maps, and then in identifying and mapping polluted sites and remediation areas. None of the countries in the NENA region, except Iran (Islamic Republic of), has an established procedure for taking action in case of soil pollution. The region lacks harmonized guidelines for identifying and classifying uncontaminated, potentially or slightly contaminated and polluted areas.

Although most NENA countries have established an institutional mandate for data collection on health issues, monitoring information on the impacts of contaminants on public health is rare. Some countries have information on mortality due to non-communicable diseases, hospitalization and premature death. However, most of these data are not directly linked to soil pollution or are not available to the public.

Reports or records on the impacts of soil contamination on the environment are available in most countries. However, most of them represent research papers, reports or graduation projects and are therefore only partially available to interested persons, decision-makers and consumers.

Consumers in the region are increasingly demanding high-quality organic food products. However, measures to monitor and control the presence and level of contaminants in the food chain are not comprehensive or are not effectively implemented in most of these countries, due to the operational and economic cost of testing.

Information on agricultural and economic losses due to soil pollution is not available. Several studies have examined the economic cost of land degradation, which accounts for USD 6 900 billion worldwide (Nkonya et al., 2016).