USAID helps clean up pesticides in Ethiopia

USAID has pledged one million dollars to help dispose of obsolete pesticides in Ethiopia. With 1 500 tonnes of obsolete, unwanted and banned pesticides, Ethiopia is the second most pesticide-contaminated country in Africa. Morocco, with nearly 3 000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides, holds the dubious distinction of being the continent's most pesticide-ridden country.

Ethiopia: 1 500 tonnes of banned, decomposed or unwanted pesticides have been dumped across the country

Leaking from old and corroding metal containers, these toxic chemicals are absorbed into the soil, seep into the groundwater and end up in rivers, lakes and other bodies of water, thereby affecting ecosystems, people and plants far from the source of contamination.

"The hazard to the environment and the risks to human health are well above the minimum threshold of safety," said FAO expert, Alemayehu Wodageneh. "As most affected sites and storehouses are in populated areas, under such conditions, it is impossible to avoid people becoming poisoned and dying."

There are more than 400 severely contaminated sites in Ethiopia. During the first phase of the disposal operation, the pesticides will be removed from these sites and safely stored at eight central locations.

The FAO Collaborative Programme on the Disposal Of Obsolete Pesticides of the Plant Protection Service, which coordinates the project, recognizes that unless further contamination with obsolete pesticides is stopped, cleaning up polluted sites is a never-ending and futile task. Consequently, a significant part of the Ethiopian project will involve raising awareness about the dangers of pesticides and providing training in the proper management and storage of these deadly chemicals.

The project will also train a wide range of technical staff and supervisors in several government departments in preventing the further accumulation of obsolete stocks, and make them aware of the dangers of relying heavily on pesticides rather than using alternative methods of pest control, such as Integrated Pest Management (IPM).

Although the funds donated by USAID will allow the Ethiopian pesticide disposal operation to get started, it represents only part of the money required to complete the job. The total cost of disposing of Ethiopia's obsolete pesticides, including their transport to developed countries for high temperature incineration in hazardous waste destruction facilities, is estimated at US$ 4.6 million. The Dutch government, which funds the FAO Collaborative Programme on the Disposal of Obsolete Pesticides, has pledged US$ 2 million. Therefore, a significant amount of money still needs to be found.

Pesticide contamination is never just a local or national problem. Pesticides don't recognize international borders. Once they have been released into the environment, they are absorbed into the atmosphere and the oceans and circulate around the world. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs), many of which are pesticides, have been found affecting polar bears in the Arctic. Unless action is taken and continued efforts are made to deal with the thousands of tonnes of leftover pesticides simmering in developing countries around the world, there is a risk that future generations will be forced to live in a planet saturated with toxic chemicals.

23 June 1999

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