FAO requires financial support for the disposal of obsolete pesticides in Africa and the Near East


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Mozambique: rusting pesticide drums in the open - a danger to people and the environment

FAO has urged the chemical industry to collaborate in clean-up and disposal of obsolete pesticides. The need for financial assistance was highlighted during an Expert Consultation on Prevention and Disposal of Obsolete Pesticides - held at FAO Headquarters in Rome 2-3 March. For the first time the industry talked of paying - on a case-by-case basis - up to 30 percent of disposal costs for pesticide waste in countries like Senegal, Madagascar and the Gambia.

FAO expert Alemayehu Wodageneh, coordinator of the meeting, said "We shall have to wait and see how this commitment is honoured." Until now industry contributions have been extremely limited.

It is estimated that more than 100 000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides are stocked in developing countries. "Leaking and corroding metal drums filled with obsolete and dangerous pesticides dot urban and rural landscapes of developing countries" according to Wodageneh. "If stocks are located in urban areas or near water bodies, which is often the case, ground water, irrigation and drinking water are at risk", he said. Africa is estimated to have between 15 000 and 20 000 tonnes of pesticide waste and enormous stocks also exist in Eastern Europe and parts of the former Soviet Union.

Much of the obsolete pesticides - particularly in Africa - are left over from foreign assistance programmes and are no longer usable because they have been banned or have deteriorated during storage. The highly toxic and persistent pesticides concerned include DDT, Endrin, Lindane, Malathion and others. FAO says that in Africa and the Near East only 1 511 tonnes have so far been disposed of.

"At this rate, unless financial assistance is forthcoming, this operation will take 10 to 15 years, by which time more harm will have been done to the environment and human health," Wodageneh said.

The total cost of freeing Africa of this poisonous waste is estimated at $80 million. So far, most of the financing for pesticide disposal in Africa has come from the Netherlands, Germany and FAO. Denmark recently committed $6 million for pesticide removal and capacity building. Worldwide sales of pesticides in 1996 brought in $33 billion to the ten biggest agrochemical companies.

The preferred way to dispose of obsolete pesticides is high-temperature incineration. Very few safe incinerators exist in developing countries so the pesticides have to be re-packaged and shipped to countries with hazardous waste destruction facilities. So far obsolete pesticide waste has been shipped to Europe.

FAO has warned that unless steps are taken to prevent it, the accumulation of hazardous pesticides will continue unabated as sales of pesticides increased substantially in 1995 and 1996. According to FAO, the main reasons for this build-up of poisonous pesticide waste include:

  • the banning of pesticides while they are in storage
  • excessive donations
  • poor assessment of pesticide requirements
  • inadequate storage facilities and poor stock management
  • wrong or ineffective pesticide formulations
  • aggressive sales practices

FAO urged the international community to increase its efforts to solve "this environmental tragedy" and called on member countries to apply Integrated Pest Management (IPM) techniques and reduce use of pesticides wherever possible.

For further information, please contact Alemayehu.Wodageneh@fao.org

11 March 1998

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