Ethiopia says pesticide dumps are "time bomb"
By David Brough
ADDIS ABABA, April 19 (Reuters) - Ethiopia said on Thursday that almost 3,000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides stored at nearly 1,000 sites around Ethiopia were threatening the health of thousands of people and contaminating the environment. "These leaking pesticides are a time bomb," Ethiopian Deputy Agriculture Minister Belay Ejigu told Reuters.
A Reuters correspondent who visited an ageing pesticides dump in Addis Ababa on Thursday found overturned metal drums leaking toxic waste, just 500 yards (metres) from a grain silo of the Ethiopian Grain Trade Enterprise.
Dusty storemen, wearing no protective clothing, guard the locked-up site, where a powerful stench fills the air.
"We believe that people who are in close contact with these obsolete pesticides are at high risk," Belay said. "These pesticides have been accumulating over 40 years." The minister and senior officials of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) believe that the pesticides are leaking into the soil, contaminating water supplies and threatening lives.
FAO says Ethiopia is the hardest-hit country in Africa by the build-up of obsolete pesticides. The organisation's Rome-based expert on the problem, Alemayehu Wodageneh, believes that hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians could be at risk. "People are living in a toilet of toxic waste," he said.
A clean-up operation by a Finnish hazardous waste treatment company, Ekokem, began this week as a training programme for disposal workers got under way despite student riots in Addis Ababa. But insufficient funds are available to complete the job.
APPEAL FOR FUNDS
Belay appealed to the international community to provide funds for the operation. "I am appealing to international donors and the international chemicals industry for funding as Ethiopia has severe budget constraints," he said.
Ekokem's export manager Markku Aaltonen said donors had so far pledged $4.5 million to clean up 1,500 tonnes of ageing toxic waste in 458 sites out of a total of more than 2,800 tonnes in 949 sites across Ethiopia.
Ekokem, which will be paid from donations by the U.S., Dutch and Swedish governments, plans to collect the waste and ship it to Finland to be incinerated.
"These chemicals can perforate the soil and get through to rivers and the water system," said George Mburathi, FAO's chief representative in Ethiopia. "It is very dangerous for the population."
Ethiopian and FAO officials say the build-up is due to bad management of pesticide deliveries by the government and donors, and unscrupulous marketing by the chemicals industry of pesticides that were in many cases not needed.
Pesticides, used to kill unwanted insects such as locusts, usually have an expiry date of two years after manufacture. International chemicals companies are not helping to take the toxic pesticides away.
According to FAO data made available to Reuters in Addis Ababa, suppliers of pesticides to Ethiopia included AgrEvo, U.S. biotech group Monsanto, Novartis, Shell, Zeneca, Bayer and Dow Agro Sciences.
Belay said that Ethiopian authorities planned to tighten controls on the import of pesticides in future to ensure that they were used only when needed.
Ethiopian authorities are encouraging the use of integrated pest management to minimise the use of chemicals in the environment.
(C) Reuters Limited 2001.
Source: REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE 19/04/2001
For the first time, representatives from the agro-chemical industry have indicated a commitment to paying part of the disposal costs for obsolete pesticides in developing countries. During an Expert Consultation on Prevention and Disposal of Obsolete Pesticides - held at FAO Headquarters in Rome 2 to 3 March - the industry talked of paying - on a case-by-case basis - up to 30 percent of disposal costs for pesticide waste in countries such as the Gambia, Madagascar and Senegal.
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, groundwater, 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 US$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.
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