Experts from 18 countries which border the Mediterranean Sea are now meeting in Venice, in northern Italy under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme.
Experts from 18 countries which border the Mediterranean Sea are now meeting in Venice, in northern Italy under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme. They are there to draft a treaty to check the pollution of the Mediterranean by discharges from land. If they reach agreement, the treaty is expected to be put before representatives of their governments for approval at a further conference in Monaco in about three month's time.
SYNOPSIS: This is the third attempt to clean up the Mediterranean by international agreement. Two treaties have already been signed: both concerned with pollution by shipping. One deals with the dumping of waste from ships, and the other specifically with oil spills.
But fish are dying from poisonous chemicals reaching the sea from industry. Industrial waste ruins the beaches, and untreated sewage poses a serious threat to health.
The problem has become more acute as the Mediterranean states have developed their industries. The North African states have built coastal terminals to exploit their oil and gas resources. Italy has placed steel and chemical plants with easy access to the sea. And rivers bring down the waste from factories further inland.
The Mediterranean suffers more than most areas from pollution because the tides are slack, and there is only one escape route to the ocean: through the Straits of Gibraltar into the Atlantic. Experts say it takes about 80 years for the water to change itself completely. Indestructible waste can drift about from beach to beach for years.
Italy's National Research Council estimates that at least 60 percent of the country's beaches are polluted to some extent. Bathing has been banned from beaches near Genoa for the past three years. Local people take little notice; but it discourages the tourists. Millions of tourists come to the Mediterranean resorts every year, and they add to the pollution problem. Sewage systems are totally inadequate for this huge seasonal increase in pollution.
The reputation of the French Riviera resorts was suffering so badly that the authorities took action. Patrol boats are specially designed to sweep up floating rubbish, filter it out, and return the clean water to the sea. But this is a small-scale, local expedient, and does not deal with chemical pollution. The object of the Venice conference is to get the coastal states working together to tackle the problem systematically. The Italian hosts are hoping that even the political differences of the Middle Eastern states will not stand in the way.