April 4, 2006

Development around Mediterranean is eco risk – UN

GENEVA -- The Mediterranean region will be increasingly plagued by environmental problems and economic disparities in the next 20 years unless development is controlled, the United Nations warned on Tuesday.

Desertification threatens the south and east, while half of its 46,000 km (28,580 mile) coastline is on track to be built up by 2025, up from 40 percent, said a report by the U.N. Environmental Program's think tank "Plan Blue."

The region, which links more than 20 countries, is home to 7 percent of the marine plant and animal species known worldwide. It is also a magnet for tourists.

"Tough decisions and trade-offs will have to be made if the Mediterranean is to preserve the natural beauty and quality of life that have made it one of the world's most attractive locations," said Mohamed Ennabli, a former environment minister of Tunisia, who is vice-president of Blue Plan.

He told a news briefing in Geneva: "The aim of the report is to highlight the fact that if we don't correct current trends, we are heading right into a wall."

There was a need to reduce the economic gap between the two shores of the Mediterranean, currently home to more than 427 million people, so as to maintain stability, Ennabli added.

The report, "A Sustainable Future for the Mediterranean: the Blue Plan's Environment & Development Outlook," forecast that the population living along the Mediterranean would increase by 96 million people by 2025, when three out of four will live in urban areas.

"The demand for water will increase by some 25 percent in the next 20 years. If we were better at managing water resources, which are currently wasted, we could recover 20 to 25 percent," report co-author Guillaume Benoit told reporters.

The region suffers from a water deficit and irrigation for farmlands already takes up 80 percent of available resources in some areas, according to the report compiled by 300 experts.