Africa is one of the main rubbish bins of the world. However, not many people
know that besides the toxic waste coming from the West, there also are tens of
thousands of tons of deteriorated pesticides in the continent, which were bought
in huge quantities over the last 40 years and were never used. According to the
World Health Organization, 200.000 people die every year because of the effects
caused by the deterioration of agricultural pesticides, and 750.000 people resort
to medical aid.
According to the estimates of the Food and Agriculture Organization, there are
50.000 tons of un-stored pesticides in Africa. Imported in great quantities during
the years of the “green revolution”, these products were then left unused for
various reasons: partly because some were not very effective or because the substances
they were made of were banned, partly because catastrophic events such as locust
or grasshopper plagues took place less often. The result is that the greater part
of these pesticides was left unused, in dilapidated warehouses, in rusted containers,
or, worse still, in the open air in millions of sites all over the continent.
Some of these stocks, tens of years old, contain elements (such as dieldrin) which
were banned over the years for their toxicity, and which can turn into even more
dangerous substances during the process of deterioration.
The dangers. This week Ethiopia has made it known that they have sent 640 tons of out-of-date
pesticides to Great Britain. In 2001, Ethiopia had given the task of disposing
of 1500 more tons to a specialized Finnish company. A deposit of out-of-date pesticides
was found even in the capital, Addis Abeba, 500 metres away from some grain silos.
“These pesticides are tens of years old, which poses some immediate risks- Eloise
Touni, from the Pesticide Action Network programme, tells Peacereporter - Most
of the deposits are not monitored, and in some cases people go there to get the
pesticides and use them in their fields”: which is a waste of effort, since pesticides
lose their effectiveness after two years (but not their toxicity, if they are
present in great quantities). “Mostly the content of these deposits has contaminated
the aquifer and the lands –Ms Touni adds- It’s as though tons of hospital waste
had ended up on our table or in the water we drink”.
This is why the UN, together with some humanitarian agencies, environmental associations
and NGOs, in 2000 launched the Africa Stockpile Programme (Asp), whose aim is
to clean up the continent, stocking pesticides and reclaiming contaminated lands.
A task which is far from easy, both for the cost and the time required. The programme
is financed mainly by donating Countries and by the United Nations, considering
the cost of collecting and stockpiling the materials. “The price varies from 1500
to 3000 dollars a ton, which most African nations cannot afford to pay” Ms Touni
explains. This means that 175 million dollars will be needed to reclaim the entire
continent, plus another 50 for prevention programmes. According to the Asp, up
to now only 5 percent of the deposits have been cleaned up. It will take 12 to
15 years to finish the task, which is often given to the same firms that sell
pesticides (who thereby make a double profit), possibly longer for nations that
are more contaminated, such as Botswana and Mali. In the meantime Africans will
continue to eat, drink and breathe poison.