Ashdod scoops up UN award for most environmentally friendly Mediterranean city

Southern city praised for steps taken in energy efficiency, public transportation, water and waste management, flood risk reduction, coastal protection and public education

Sue Surkes is The Times of Israel's environment reporter

The Ashdod coastline. (Ashdod Municipality)
The Ashdod coastline. (Ashdod Municipality)

The southern coastal city of Ashdod has trounced five other Mediterranean cities to receive this year’s United Nations’ Istanbul Environment Friendly City Award.

Ashdod will receive the prize at a ceremony on December 4 during the 21st Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention to be held near Naples.

The award bestows honor, not money.

The Barcelona Convention and its protocols form the legal framework for the Mediterranean Action Plan (approved in 1975), which was developed under the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Regional Seas Program. MAP, which originally focused on marine pollution control, has since broadened to include integrated coastal zone planning and management.

Three out of six applicants were shortlisted by a committee comprising representatives of the UNEP/MAP Barcelona Convention Secretariat and three independent experts.

The jury — members of the Bureau of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention and of the President of the Mediterranean Commission on Sustainable Development — chose Ashdod as the winner, followed by Crikvenica in Croatia and the Turkish city of Hatay.

The Ashdod coastline. (Ashdod Municipality)

Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri said the award was “a certificate of honor for the city and its residents. We consider the sea as one of the most important resources for the city and we will continue to face the challenges and set additional goals in the field.”

Congratulating the mayor, Environmental Protection Minister Ze’ev Elkin noted that Israel has almost completely stopped dumping pollutants into the Mediterranean Sea.

In May, cities located along the Mediterranean coast were invited to apply for the award by demonstrating steps taken in four categories — nature and biodiversity protection; built environment (housing and urban planning); social, economic and cultural sustainability; and governance.

Ashdod Mayor Yehiel Lasri. (Screen capture, YouTube/Limor Edrey)

Ashdod won for the measures it has implemented in fields such as energy efficiency, public transportation, water management including leakage reduction, and effective waste management combined with minimizing the quantity of waste sent to landfill.

Other steps that impressed the jury included flood risk reduction and coastal protection. Only four kilometers (2.5 miles) of the city’s shoreline is built up and a distance of 100 meters (109 yards) is maintained between built area or cliff and the shoreline as matter of policy. The coastal area is continuously monitored for traces of pollution, a jury statement said, adding that the city has also invested in public awareness-raising to encourage citizens to take action in support of sustainability.

Following the jury’s announcement of the winner, UNEP/MAP Coordinator Gaetano Leone said that “action taken by the local authorities of Ashdod to reconcile development with environmental protection and to protect the coastal zone demonstrate the importance of the role that cities and local governments can play to entrench sustainability in the Mediterranean region.”

Funded by the Turkish government, with which Israel has poor official relations at present, the Istanbul Environment Friendly City Award was established at the 19th Meeting of the Contracting Parties to the Barcelona Convention at COP19 in Athens in 2016.

It is aimed at showcasing cities that strive for sustainable development in the hope that others will follow suit.

The first award was given last year, to Izmir in Turkey.

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