In South Asia, the issue of marine litter management is not taken as a priority by any of the nations, write Harsh Mahaseth and Shubham Sharma for South Asia Monitor
Marine litter is a unique form of oceanic pollution which has an adverse effect on the ocean's ecosystem. It is a pervasive problem along the shorelines, coastal waters and oceans throughout the world. Unregulated dumping in the oceans is the primary factor for the accumulation of litter in them.
The South Asian Seas (SAS), identified as seas bordering India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Maldives, and Sri Lanka, comprising the northern part of the Indian Ocean, along with parts of the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, have accumulated massive waste, causing devastation in the region.
The South Asian region consists of one-fifth of the global population. The countries in this region are plagued by high population, low income, and low development, with a high dependence on natural resources. The region has begun developing at a rapid pace, which has led to a substantial contribution by each of these countries to the unique pollution problem referred to as marine litter.
Marine litter in the SAS is primarily in the form of sewage, agricultural chemicals, sediment, oil hydrocarbons, and solid waste. The pollution is a direct result of poor waste management by the countries involved. It is estimated that 80% of marine debris can be traced to land-based activities. Of this debris, around 70% is believed to be entering the ocean seabed, 15% on beaches and 15% remains floating on the surface.
To combat marine litter, it was identified in 1995 as one of the nine source categories of the Global Programme of Action for the Protection of the Marine Environment from Land-based Activities (UNEP, 1995). Not until 2004, in Resolution 59/24 in Oceans and the Law of the sea, was marine litter recommended in discussions of the United Nations Consultative Process on the Law of the Sea (UNICPOLOS) as well as in the 2004 UN Secretary-General’s Report. Additionally, adverse effects of discarded fishing material was addressed in Resolution 59/25 of the UN General Assembly on November 17, 2004 on ‘Oceans and the Law of the Sea – Sustainable Fisheries’.
Due to the serious threat marine litter poses to fishery resources, habitat, and wildlife, as well as to human health and safety, the UNEP/Regional Seas programme has been developing activities relevant to the marine litter issue in consultation and in cooperation with many UN Agencies, such as the Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission (IOC) of UNESCO, International Maritime Organization (IMO), the Secretariat of the Basel Convention, The Mediterranean Action Plan and the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), to facilitate and form programmes to address the issue of marine litter.
In South Asia, the issue of marine litter management is not taken as a priority by any of the nations. At the moment, in the SA region, there are no legal frameworks or policies that address the issue of marine litter, therefore, there are no specific national or regional projects aimed at the issue of marine litter. Furthermore, within the region, data regarding the open-ocean floating and seafloor marine debris is lacking.
Currently, only India, Sri Lanka and the Maldives have some data that is of use, while the other countries have scarce information. Secondly, marine litter is unmonitored and unmanaged. Any and all marine litter activities are limited to periodic beach-clean up and community clean up exercises, which is insufficient to deal with the growing problem of marine litter. Without a concrete policy framework, backed by proper management of waste, marine pollution and litter cannot be combated.
Recognizing the problem, the South Asia Co-operative Environment Programme, under its Waste Management programme, prepared the Framework for Marine Litter Management in South Asia, which was formally endorsed in the 4th Inter-Ministerial Meeting of the South Asian Seas. With the formation of the framework, hopefully, the nations will take steps towards tackling the increasingly disastrous issue of marine pollution.
(The writers are from the NALSAR University of Law, Hyderabad, India)