PR 96/20


Rome, June 5 - Large amounts of unused pesticides are posing a serious threat to the environment and public health in developing countries, according to a study released today by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

FAO estimates that there are more than 100,000 tonnes of pesticides in developing countries, 20,000 of which are in Africa. Several countries in Asia and Eastern Europe have stocks in excess of 5,000 tonnes each. Among the highly toxic and persistent substances are DDT, Dieldrin and HCH (Hexachlorocyclohexane). Most of these pesticides are leftover from pesticide donations provided by foreign aid programmes. Due to the absence of environmentally sound disposal facilities stocks are constantly increasing. FAO is calling for an urgent concerted global effort to dispose of this hazardous waste and to avoid further accumulations.

"Obsolete pesticide stocks are potential time-bombs," said Niek van der Graaff, head of FAO's Plant Protection Service. "Leakage, seepage and various accidents related to pesticides are quite common and widespread. Storage conditions rarely meet internationally accepted standards. Many pesticide containers deteriorate and leak their contents into the soil, contaminating groundwater and the environment. Most stores are in the centres of urban areas or close to public dwellings".

In Africa and the Near East, obsolete pesticides have become a source of great environmental concern, the report said. Some stocks are over 30 years old and are kept in poor conditions with few or no safety precautions. There is not a single country that is not affected by the serious environmental hazards associated with obsolete pesticides. Unless quick action is taken, the situation can be both catastrophic and irreversible, FAO said.

Over the years, an enormous variety of pesticides have been imported by developing countries either as donations by aid agencies or governments. "Of the known total figure of $672 million-worth of pesticides imported into Africa in 1993-94, at least 40 percent, or $269 million-worth, might have been wasted, the report said. Data from other regions show that the problem is not limited to Africa, but also exists in Eastern Europe, Asia and Latin America.

Common reasons for pesticide leftovers, according to FAO, include:

  • the banning of pesticides that are still in storage;
  • prolonged storage of products with a short shelf-life;
  • difficulties in forecasting outbreaks of pests such as locusts;
  • excessive donations (inappropriate, untimely and uncoordinated);
  • late arrival of donations (out of season);
  • inadequate storage facilities;
  • lack of staff trained in storage management.

According to the UN agency, donor countries, aid agencies, agrochemical companies and recipient governments are all responsible for the steady accumulation of obsolete pesticides in developing countries. "It is therefore believed that there is an international responsibility to assist recipient countries in addressing the problem. International solutions and concerted effort, cooperation and commitment are needed," the report said. FAO underlined that the financial assistance of the chemical industry should be sought. Costs of disposing of obsolete pesticide stocks in Africa alone are estimated to exceed $100 million.

The best way to dispose of pesticides is high-temperature incineration, FAO said. Hazardous waste should be shipped to a dedicated waste incinerator in an industrialized country, since none of the developing countries - with the exception of a few newly industrialized nations - have facilities for the safe and environmentally sound disposal of pesticides.

FAO recently completed a waste disposal project involving about 260 tonnes of obsolete pesticide stocks in the Republic of Yemen. Storage sites were cleaned and pesticides were shipped to the United Kingdom for incineration. In Zambia, nearly 350 tonnes of toxic waste will be disposed of in collaboration with the German Agency for Technical Cooperation. In addition, an action plan for the containment and disposal of pesticide stocks for Africa and the Near East is currently being developed with assistance of the government of the Netherlands.

The long-term solution to disposal problems lies in preventing accumulation of obsolete pesticides, FAO noted. Stocks should be kept as small as possible; pesticide use should be drastically reduced and overstocking avoided.

The FAO study "Prevention and disposal of obsolete and unwanted pesticide stocks in Africa and the Near East" as well as "Provisional guidelines: Prevention of accumulation of obsolete pesticide stocks" can be obtained from the FAO press office, fax: 0039-6-5225 4974, tel: 0039-6-5225 3105
e-mail: Erwin.Northoff@FAO.ORG