UN Enviroment Programme

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


The information the information available for the 20 countries of the NENA region is very diverse in quality and quantity and highly fragmented. Industry represents a moderate source of soil pollution in the NENA region, while the energy sector and transport are the major sources of pollution in Algeria, Bahrain, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Iraq, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Agriculture is the main source of pollution in Palestine; and it is a significant source in Egypt, Iran (Islamic Republic of), Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. All NENA countries possess environmental protection interest supported by regulatory frameworks; terms like water, food, forest and land are frequently used in most policy documents with few reports addressing soil quality.

Trace elements are the most studied contaminants by NENA scientists, followed by hydrocarbons, industrial waste and pesticides. An emerging problem for the NENA region is obsolete pesticides that amount to several thousand tonnes, stored in inappropriate places and in a risky way. These toxic chemicals, often stored outdoors in leaking containers, seep into the soil and water and increase the risk of poisoning. Poor solid waste management in countries where the production of municipal solid waste is increasing, but treatment and recycling technologies are not being adopted at the same pace causes another pressing problem in the region. Mining is also a significant source of soil and air pollution by organic contaminants and trace elements in Palestine, Algeria, Yemen, Tunisia, Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and Morocco.

The transfer of soil contaminants into the food chain has alerted many voices in the region to the effects on health, especially in the most vulnerable sectors, calling for stricter control measures and effective epidemiological surveillance systems.

Countries in the NENA region are characterized by a large number of laws covering environmental protection, but most of these laws are old, fragmented, poorly implemented, very general, and no longer consistent with sustainable land and soil management and new participatory approaches. The responsibility for controlling environmental pollution generally lies with national authorities, but it is recommended to assign a role to local authorities and other civil society actors, which can be of great help in raising awareness and building capacity to protect and maintain soil quality as a prerequisite for good water quality and food security. Technical infrastructures need to be continuously updated in order to provide sound technical and scientific solutions to policy gaps and thus support assessment, monitoring, decision-making and sustainable management.