Sunday, September 27, 2020

Africa Institute urges decision makers to make efforts to protect ecosystem

The regional workshop on chemicals risk management ended Friday with eight countries calling for decision makers to come to the party in the promotion of effective use of chemicals and the protection of the ecosystem.

The workshop took stock of the situation in different countries in managing and made recommendations to raise awareness in the management and protection of the ecosystem as well as the effective use of chemicals with high level participation.

The workshop failed to come up with resolutions ostensibly because there was no time to negotiate text which is acceptable to political sensitivities. That notwithstanding, delegates were in unison that there was need for the formation of inter-ministerial committees by member states.

Countries that were represented were Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, Tanzania, Zambia and South Africa, which are members of the Africa Institute, a regional centre to the Basel and Stockholm Conventions.

A participant from Botswana, Richard Malesu, asked for the Africa Institute to work as a lobby group to engage regional blocks such as the Southern African Development Community.

For his part, the Waste Management director at the Ministry of Environment, Wildlife and Tourism, Jimmy Opelo said the workshop and the upcoming others should “create a situation whereby participation becomes part of our plans”.

“Part of the objective must be to deliver at the workplace and mainstream with the activities of our ministries,” said Opelo.

The Africa Institute is the Basel and Stockholm Conventions Regional Centre for all English speaking African countries. It provides training, capacity building, awareness and information exchange among others. The workshop is organized under the chemicals management program supported by the Swedish Chemicals Agency (Keml).

“We are oblivious that we are passing on dangerous chemicals for future generations. Chemicals have long term effects on the ecosystem,” said the executive director of the Africa Institute, Dr. Taelo Letsela.

Delegates made presentations on the situation in their countries and the challenges they face with regards to legal and illegal cross border movements and trans-boundary impacts and are expected to chart the way forward.

“The Africa Institute was established as a regional centre to the Basel and Stockholm conventions in recognition of the fact that technical assistance is required in developing countries with economies in transition in order to effectively implement these conventions,” said Letsela.

It emerged that while most countries have environmental legislative framework in place, such pieces of legislation are fragmented and need amendments. The other downside, it was revealed, is the lack of capacity to enforce laws coupled with the lack of political will to implement international conventions on hazardous wastes.

Delegate Moleboheng Petlane said Lesotho has outdated legislation and there was no political will to implement chemical risk management. Ravindranath Gorreeba of Mauritius told delegates that his country has enacted the ‘Dangerous Chemical Control Act 2004′ that enforces effective control of dangerous waste.

Botswana herself has domesticated the Basel and Stockholm conventions.

The Basel Convention, which came into force in 1992, deals with the ‘Control of Trans-boundary Movements of Hazardous wastes and their Disposal’. The Rotterdam Convention, which came into force in 2004, deals with ‘Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade’. The Stockholm Convention, which came into force in 2004, deals with ‘Persistent Organic Pollutants’.

“Currently there is an ongoing negotiation on the possible mercury convention. We are pleased that in this workshop we are going to hear from some of the key players in this negotiation process,” said Letsela.

A participant from Nigeria reminded delegates of the 1988 Koko incident in which 888 tonnes of assorted toxic waste from Italy were dropped in Nigeria illegally. He said that taught Nigeria a lesson. To date the country has ratified many international conventions on chemical risk management winning a string of awards along the way for her commitment.

“Countries with similar problems need to work together and share information Countries with Governments cannot do everything. Most of the work must be done by companies,” said Bengt Melsater of the Swedish Chemicals Agency.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.