Ethiopia says pesticide dumps are "time bomb"
ADDIS ABABA - Ethiopia said yesterday that almost 3,000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides stored at nearly 1,000 sites around Ethiopia were threatening the health of thousands of people and contaminating the environment.
"These leaking pesticides are a time bomb," Ethiopian Deputy Agriculture Minister Belay Ejigu told Reuters.
A Reuters correspondent who visited an ageing pesticides dump in Addis Ababa yesterday found overturned metal drums leaking toxic waste, just 500 yards (metres) from a grain silo of the Ethiopian Grain Trade Enterprise.
Dusty storemen, wearing no protective clothing, guard the locked-up site, where a powerful stench fills the air.
"We believe that people who are in close contact with these obsolete pesticides are at high risk," Belay said. "These pesticides have been accumulating over 40 years."
The minister and senior officials of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) believe that the pesticides are leaking into the soil, contaminating water supplies and threatening lives.
FAO says Ethiopia is the hardest-hit country in Africa by the build-up of obsolete pesticides. The organisations Rome-based expert on the problem, Alemayehu Wodageneh, believes that hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians could be at risk.
"People are living in a toilet of toxic waste," he said.
A clean-up operation by a Finnish hazardous waste treatment company, Ekokem, began this week as a training programme for disposal workers got under way despite student riots in Addis Ababa. But insufficient funds are available to complete the job.
APPEAL FOR FUNDS
Belay appealed to the international community to provide funds for the operation.
"I am appealing to international donors and the international chemicals industry for funding as Ethiopia has severe budget constraints," he said.
Ekokems export manager Markku Aaltonen said donors had so far pledged $4.5 million to clean up 1,500 tonnes of ageing toxic waste in 458 sites out of a total of more than 2,800 tonnes in 949 sites across Ethiopia.
Ekokem, which will be paid from donations by the U.S., Dutch and Swedish governments, plans to collect the waste and ship it to Finland to be incinerated.
"These chemicals can perforate the soil and get through to rivers and the water system," said George Mburathi, FAOs chief representative in Ethiopia. "It is very dangerous for the population."
Ethiopian and FAO officials say the build-up is due to bad management of pesticide deliveries by the government and donors, and unscrupulous marketing by the chemicals industry of pesticides that were in many cases not needed.
Pesticides, used to kill unwanted insects such as locusts, usually have an expiry date of two years after manufacture. International chemicals companies are not helping to take the toxic pesticides away.
According to FAO data made available to Reuters in Addis Ababa, suppliers of pesticides to Ethiopia included AgrEvo, U.S. biotech group Monsanto, Novartis, Shell, Zeneca, Bayer and Dow Agro Sciences.
Belay said that Ethiopian authorities planned to tighten controls on the import of pesticides in future to ensure that they were used only when needed.
Ethiopian authorities are encouraging the use of integrated pest management to minimise the use of chemicals in the environment.
Story by David Brough
REUTERS NEWS SERVICE
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