ROME, 18 September -- The amount of toxic waste stemming from obsolete pesticides in Africa is higher than previously estimated, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a statement today.

"Every African country has stockpiles of obsolete pesticides and associated waste such as heavily contaminated soils and millions of containers. FAO estimates that the toxic waste in Africa alone amounts to around 120 000 tonnes, with more than 500 000 tonnes worldwide," said Alemayehu Wodageneh, FAO expert on obsolete pesticides, on the occasion of an expert meeting in Rome. FAO previously estimated the amount of obsolete pesticides in Africa at around 50 000 tonnes.

"These pesticides seriously threaten the health of both rural and urban populations, especially the poorest of the poor, and contribute to land degradation and water pollution," Wodageneh said. An estimated 30 percent of the waste is believed to be persistent organic pollutants (POPs).

In nearly a decade, less than 5 percent of the estimated stockpiles have been disposed of. FAO successfully concluded the disposal of close to 3 000 tonnes in more than 10 countries in Africa and the Near East in close collaboration with bilateral partners. FAO's biggest clean-up project, in Ethiopia, currently aims at the removal of over 3 000 tonnes.

Despite the committed efforts of FAO and others to address the problem, obsolete pesticides continue to accumulate. "In some countries we have been very successful in linking the removal of pesticide waste with the improvement of pesticide controls and the promotion of sustainable pest management alternatives. Unfortunately, on a regional or global level, it is probable that stockpiles of obsolete pesticides are growing more quickly than they are being alleviated," Wodageneh said.
In many developing countries, management of pesticides is often inadequate due to a lack of resources. Many of these countries suffer from weak import controls, poor storage and stock management, and a lack of training in appropriate pesticide use. Over the past years, FAO has trained thousands of plant protection experts in pesticide control and management.

Since no adequate hazardous waste destruction facilities exist in Africa, waste has so far been shipped to a developed country for high-temperature incineration at an average cost of US$3 500 per tonne of waste.

The condition of obsolete pesticide stocks varies from well stored products that can still be used in the field, to products that have entirely leaked from corroded steel drums and other containers into the soil.
In many cases products are stored in the open where they are exposed to great temperature fluctuations and other damaging conditions, which accelerate the deterioration of the pesticides as well as their containers. However, even where storage conditions are good, the length of storage and the nature of the products have resulted in container corrosion and product leakage.

The recently launched 'Africa Stockpiles Programme' (ASP) aims to clear all obsolete pesticides and contaminated waste in Africa in the next 10-15 years and to promote prevention measures and capacity building. The total funds needed to cover the ASP costs is expected to be US$200-250 million.

Current partners of this multipartner initiative include financial institutions and specialised agencies (among others the African Development Bank, chemical industry, FAO, the Global Environment Facility, Pesticide Action Network, UN Environment Programme, UN Industrial Development Organization, the World Bank, World Wide Fund for Nature/WWF). FAO will play a key role in the technical aspects of the clean-up operations.