UNEP Annual Report 2011 Close

AMPAI HARAKUNARAK

AMPAI HARAKUNARAK

GEF Task Manager, Bangkok, Thailand

On her way to her family home near the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai, Ampai Harakunarak knew that something was wrong.

"Travelling through the central rice plains, I was astonished by the huge volume of water there," she recalls. "It was shocking. I remember thinking at the time, I wonder if this is headed for Bangkok?"

Her fears were well-founded: by mid-October, parts of the capital were under two metres of water. By November, at the height of the floods, over three million people had been affected and more than 500 had lost their lives.

Ampai knows better than most the devastating power of water. It's her area of specialty, focusing on freshwaters, international and coastal waters. She currently manages four large-scale projects (budgeted at over $1m) and three medium-scale projects (below $1m). The geographic range is enormous: from the Russian Arctic to the Cook Islands of the South Pacific. In China, her project looks directly at the issue of flood prevention and control. Yet the Thai floods of 2011 really struck home.

"The scale of this was unprecedented," Ampai recounts. "There had been terrible flooding 50, 70 years ago—but the memories had faded. No-one really wanted to think about it happening again. But we've seen such development in Thailand in the last few decades, especially around Bangkok. It's no wonder the city was hit so hard."

BARBARA J.KRUMSIEK

BARBARA J. KRUMSIEK

Co-Chair, UNEP Finance Initiative

There was a time when it was hard to stir the public interest in finance and economics. But that was before the Financial Crisis. And now, projects and initiatives that UNEP and its partners have been developing for years, are attracting the attention of an increasingly wide audience.

Thats something Barbara Krumsiek welcomes. As co-chair of UNEP's Finance Initiative, she welcomes the heightened awareness of the role fi nance has to play in people's lives. "We were holding our 2011 Global Round Table in Washington, DC," she recalls, "just as the Occupy movement was taking off in Wall Street. Occupy DC had set up camp just down the block from our meeting. There's been an enormous backlash against some of the outcomes of the work of our industry as a whole. It certainly served to focus the thinking at our meeting, about how we can be part of the solution."

With over 200 institutional members, UNEP FI is beginning to get the message through to investors, that the superfi cial profi t line is not the only consideration they need to take into account.

"Our Integrating Reporting Initiative shows investors need not only fi nancial data, but also ‘off -balance' information: environmental, social and governance considerations," Barbara explains. "Getting this information in a consistent form means that we can speed the fl ow of capital to worthy projects. Capital moves when there is good data—without it, you can only make short-term decisions."

MOUSTAPHA KAMAL GUEYE

MOUSTAPHA KAMAL GUEYE

Acting Head, Green Economy, Advisory Services Unit

"The Green Economy is being debated in Rio, and New York," says Kamal Gheye, "but it's being implemented on the ground. and in many cases, people don't even know it."

Part of Kamal's job is enhancing the understanding of the Green Economy at a country level, usually in developing states. "We gather together a wide range of partners— governments, the private sector, civil society, academia—and encourage them to take an overview of projects which many of them are working on separately," he explains. "The concept of the Green Economy may be new but corporate social responsibility, environmental concerns, green energy— many of these are already being addressed. So this helps us dispel the perception that Green Economy is a buzzword imposed by the North. In fact, many states are already working towards a Green Economy."

Helping countries scale-up what may be already successful—but small—projects, is the other major part of his role. Kamal works with a team to undertake scoping missions and draft Green Economy action plans for countries which request them.

"Sometimes governments say we just want you to help us spread the message of the Green Economy, and we'll take it from there," he says. "Others want us to help them integrate it into every aspect of their economic and development agenda."

JOYCE SANG

JOYCE SANG

Programme Officer, Children and Youth, Nairobi

Tunza is a Swahili word meaning "Treat With Care". It's also the umbrella title for UNEP's outreach activities with children and youth, and couldn't be more appropriate, explains Joyce.

"Kids have a very sophisticated understanding of environmental issues," Joyce explains. "They may be attracted to the subject out of care for wildlife. But once they are introduced to concepts like ecosystems, climate change and the Green Economy, they really get it. And they want to be involved."

With a background mentoring inner-city children in Minneapolis, USA, Joyce knows that once children and youth are given a voice, the outcomes can be inspiring.

"Every year we organise the Tunza conference," she says. "In 2011, it was in Bandung, Indonesia. Over 1400 young people gathered together to issue the Bandung Declaration for us to take forward to Rio+20. That's a statement from the next generation that cannot be ignored." That declaration—calling on the summit to move towards a sustainable development pathway— also involved a commitment from the young people to advocate and campaign in their own communities.

"This is a very plugged-in generation," says Joyce. "They understand how to spread messages very widely, very fast. They are using social media in a powerful way, networking with each other to push their agendas—and they're actually prepared to hold governments responsible for the promises they make."

JOSEPH KILONZO

JOSEPH KILONZO

Team Assistant, Executive Office, Nairobi

Having worked with four Executive Directors - starting with Dr MK Tolba, back in 1978— Joseph probably has a longer history than anyone else at UNEP. Now approaching his final year - he retires at the end of 2012—he is one of the programme's keenest advocates.

"UNEP is a family," he says, "and like in a family, people get on best when they're happy. I always try to make people happy, with a smile, or a joke. It's such important work that we do here. I see my duty as helping them to do it."

Starting as a messenger, Joseph is a familiar face around the Gigiri campus. He now gives clerical and administrative support to the Executive Office, which at times has involved meeting dignitaries such as Kofi Annan and Ban Ki-moon.

An avid reader of UNEP's publications, he intends to spend his retirement spreading the organization's message.

"When I grew up in Machakos, we were surrounded by trees and wildlife," he recalls. "There was no confl ict between humans and animals. Kenya was very different then. My family are farmers. Since those days, we've had to relocate many times, mostly because water has dried up. You could say we're environmental refugees. So what I read about in the publications, the things that UNEP is warning about, I am seeing it in my everyday life."

PIER CARLO SANDEI

PIER CARLO SANDEI

Programme Officer, Regional Office for Europe, Vienna

As a teenager growing up in Venice, Italy, Pier Carlo Sandei used to listen to the NATO warplanes taking off from nearby Udine airbase, bound for the Balkans. Today he works in the region as UNEP's Programme Offi cer, co-ordinating the Environmental Security Initiative—a multi-agency project bringing together groups including UNDP, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and NATO.

With so many agencies involved, it might be reasonable to anticipate diff ering agendas or clashes of institutional cultures. Not a bit of it, says Pier Carlo. "The partnership works really well," he says. "No-one is trying to eat from the other's plate. Sure, it's challenging at times, when it comes to setting out priorities or dealing with international counterparts. But that's the part I like most. And we all share the same vision."

That vision is a secure, stable Balkans. But while the ethnic tensions which tore Yugoslavia apart in the 1990s might now be less visible, many underlying environmental problems are just coming to the surface.

"We're dealing with the legacy the collapse of a state," Pier Carlo explains. "We have Communist-era industry right at the heart of some very vulnerable communities. Mining sites which have been abandoned without any proper regulation or closure. In one case, toxic waste from industrial smelters right next to a local hospital."

ISABEL MARTINEZ

ISABEL MARTINEZ

Programme Officer, Regional Office for Latin America & the Caribbean

She describes it as one of the most magical places on Earth. And when she talks of Lake Titicaca, it is evident that Isabel Martinez is dedicated to her work protecting South America's largest lake. "It's a place where people are very attuned to nature," she explains. "Of course, a lot of the environmental problems there are caused by human activity. But once you meet the local communities, and begin to explain to them the importance of preserving the ecosystem, it's wonderful to see the goodwill in their response."

Although she has other projects under her supervision—rainwater harvesting in Guatemala and Coastal Ecosystem Management to name but two—for the last two years it's Lake Titicaca which has taken centre stage.

As well as educating and capacity-building within local communities to mitigate their environmental impact—projects in which Isabel works closely with UNDP and UNICEF— she has been driving moves to strengthen the relationship between the two states which share the lake, Bolivia and Peru. Just as the seemingly placid waters of the lake can be dangerously deceptive, the politics of international waters can be diffi cult to navigate. "It was not easy when we fi rst started," she recalls. "The political relationship between the two governments was stuck. But somehow we managed to gain the confi dence of both countries. In 2011, we saw them begin to refresh their diplomatic agenda, and now there's a real will to eff ectively manage this shared resource."

ANTONIO PERERA

ANTONIO PERERA

UNEP Haiti Country, Programme Manager

2011 was the year when things began to return to normal in Haiti—if normal is a word which can ever be used about the poorest country in the western hemisphere.

The exact reason for Haiti's continued presence at the bottom of the development tables is unclear. "Over the years, millions and millions of dollars have been spent," says Antonio Perera, UNEP's Country Programme Manager. "But even as aid increased, in many cases results got worse."

It was an attempt to solve this conundrum which led Antonio and his colleagues to develop a study into ‘Lessons Learned'—looking at those aid and development projects which had succeeded in Haiti, and why—with a view to implementing the fi ndings in UNEP's mission. The report was complete, and just days away from launch in January 2010.

Then the earthquake struck.

The exact death toll is disputed, but the Haitian government estimates 316,000 people perished. In the worst tragedy to ever befall the UN, 103 colleagues were killed. Mercifully none of the UNEP staff lost their lives—although there was hardly a person in the unit who was unaff ected by the disaster.

MAGDA NASSEF

MAGDA NASSEF

Project Manager, Environment & Livelihoods Initiative, Nyala, Darfur, Sudan

Nyala means "the place of chatting" in the Daju language, and it's a description which Magda Nassef fi nds appropriate. "It's a lively, vibrant, bustling city," she explains. "There are so many ethnicities, so much atmosphere. A very interesting place to live and work. And mercifully," she jokes, "the climate is cooler than Khartoum."

Magda and her colleague, Dr Abuelgasim Adam, are the sole UNEP representatives in Nyala, where they are based at the UNOCHA compound. There, in partnership with Tufts University of the US, they are primarily occupied with research and advocacy projects around the pastoral communities of South Darfur.

Darfur has become less prominent in the international media as tensions eased slightly following the Doha Agreement in 2011. But that does not mean that underlying problems have gone away. And, as Magda explains, the environment is often at the heart of the issue. "Before the confl ict, there tended to be a symbiotic relationship between the pastoralists and the agricultural communities. The pastoralists timed their annual migration to the agricultural areas just after harvest—allowing their stock to consume the plant waste and providing manure to the fi elds. But that's all been disrupted. Confl ict for natural resources is commonplace. And too often, we're seeing skirmishes between rival groups."

Learning more about the pastoralists' needs and lifestyles will, Magda hopes, allow policymakers to help resolve some of those issues.