UN Enviroment Programme

Chapter 12. Status of soil pollution in sub-Saharan Africa


Significant information gaps about the extent and impact of soil pollution in sub-Saharan Africa has been identified. Although there is literature available from public resources as well as published academic research on a variety of topics falling under the soil pollution umbrella, it is compartmentalised and do not provide an integrated picture of the situation in the region. While clean water is considered a scarce resource in Africa, often managed by dedicated government departments, soil is considered to be present everywhere and the governance of it, left to the departments that govern the different economic sectors such as agriculture and mining. A number of institutions or regional offices of international organisations such as SETAC, do provide platforms for information sharing on soil pollution in the region. However, each of them address singular aspects of soil pollution such as environmental toxicology or pesticide regulation as opposed to the complex topic in its entirety.

A second major gap to be addressed in the region is the establishment and strengthening of soil laboratory facilities and capacities across sub-Saharan Africa. For a number of contaminants, especially emerging contaminants, the only comprehensive analysis can be done in laboratories in South Africa. This is problematic as the cost of exporting samples are high and export permits and special permissions for soil samples further complicates the process. Also, the capacity of individual laboratories must be increased to include for a wider range of soil contaminants that can be determined at one facility. The lack of capacity to analyse soil samples for a wide range of contaminants result in either inconclusive results or otherwise, complicated logistical arrangements to split samples and send it to other laboratories at additional cost. In addition to low soil analytical capacity in the region, the cost associated with analysis for soil contaminants is an enormous barrier to the existence of comprehensive soil pollution data in sub-Saharan Africa. While mining and industrial companies are sometimes directed by government departments to conduct routine soil analysis procedures as part of their environmental monitoring objectives, the high cost of soil sample analysis, are a complaint and makes them aim for a minimum number of samples to be analysed. Further to this, the cost of soil analysis to assess the possible health risk posed by their soil, is off-putting and often completely unaffordable when paid for by concerned citizens. It is therefore recommended that a number of non-profit laboratories be established across the region that have the ability to apply for external funding in order to pay for the analysis of samples submitted by concerned citizens, especially by those living in areas with high risk of possible soil pollution. This chapter also highlights the absence of comprehensive approaches to soil pollution monitoring and human and environmental health risk determination.

In the case of sub-Saharan Africa, it is therefore of utmost importance to strengthen national capacities for contaminant detection, monitoring and risk assessment so that regulatory frameworks can be strengthened based on informed decisions and reliable regional and national data.