Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Botswana’s chemical accidents, radiation emergencies preparedness below par – WHO

The World Health Organisation (WHO) claims that Botswana’s emergency and disaster preparedness for a chemical accident and radiation emergency are still inadequate. A Health Situation Analysis of the WHO African Region states that Botswana is among scores of other African countries which are likely to be overwhelmed in the case of an accidental chemical spill or radiation emergency.

With Botswana having a radiation emergency score of 40 out of a possible 100, the Analysis notes that only a few countries score fairly good marks. “Data on radiation emergencies show that although countries like South Africa and Algeria are doing well, very few countries in the region can claim a good score. This also applies to scores for chemical events, where a few more countries have good scores,” states the Analysis.

People exposed to high doses of radiation could be at a greater risk than others of developing cancer later in life. In 2017, an International Atomic Energy Agency team visited Botswana and concluded that the country’s regulatory framework for nuclear and radiation safety had improved. At the time, the IAEA experts indicated that Botswana had considerably enhanced its regulatory framework radiation safety.

Botswana uses radiation sources in medical and industrial applications, as well as in science and research.

However, despite Botswana organising an emergency exercise to prepare to effectively respond to radiation emergencies and plan for recovery with the support of the IAEA, the WHO Analysis seems to point out that radiation emergency preparedness has hardly improved.

On a scale of 0 to 100, with 100 being the best prepared and 0 being the least prepared, the Atlasgives Botswana an overall ranking of 20 out of 100 for chemical accident preparation. Out of the 47 countries assessed for chemical accident preparation, only six countries scored 60 and above being Algeria, Mauritius, Rwanda, South Africa, Uganda with a score of 80, and Senegal scored 60. The other thirty seven (37) African countries.

A chemical release can also be caused by natural phenomenon such as droughts and floods which have increased in intensity and frequency over the past few years in Botswana. When a chemical release is caused by a technological accident, it is called a Natech (natural-technological) phenomenon.

“As the African continent is highly exposed to natural disasters, it would be important to develop plans to deal with such events and secondary technological disasters,” states the report.

The management of chemical accidents and emergency situations entails a multidisciplinary and multi-sectoral approach that requires the health sector to play an influential complementary role, or even the leading role, at different stages of the management process.

The IAEA is responsible for developing standards and guidelines and works to define and promote common approaches to harmonise emergency response between countries. It carries out its work under the Convention on Early Notification of a Nuclear Accident, also known as the Early Notification Convention.


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