The United Nations environmental agency today called for urgent international funding to help Côte d’Ivoire clean-up and rehabilitate sites contaminated by deadly toxic waste from abroad that was criminally dumped in August around Abidjan, its largest city with a population of some 5 million.
“Irrespective of who will or who will not be held liable for this incident, it is the people of one of the world’s poorest countries who have already paid dearly for this irresponsible act of hazardous waste dumping, who are now being forced to actually pay the bill for removal and clean up operations,” UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director Achim Steiner said.
Speaking ahead of next weeks’s meeting in Nairobi, Kenya, of the parties to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, Mr. Steiner noted that the clean-up costs in Côte d’Ivoire could reach into the millions of dollars. National authorities have put the cost at $30 million.
The central theme of the meeting is electronic waste, or e-waste, due to massive growth in the international traffic of obsolete products like computers and mobile phones, but the issue of illegal shipments of hazardous materials to vulnerable countries by unscrupulous operators is also likely to be high on delegates’ minds as a result of the Côte d’Ivoire case in which a ship sailing from Europe dumped waste in the West African country.
Mr. Steiner said urgent assistance to meet Côte d’Ivoire’s costs was in the spotlight but emphasized that this was by no means a unique case, warning that similar cases could escalate unless existing international regulations on toxic waste, including those under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), are properly enforced and gaps between various treaties closed.
UNEP has determined that the dumping, which killed at least 12 people and led well over 100,000 others to seek medical care, is clearly a crime. The crisis began when a ship unloaded 500 tonnes of petrochemical waste into trucks which then dumped it in at least 15 sites around Abidjan. The waste contained a mixture of petroleum distillates, hydrogen sulphide, mercaptans, phenolic compounds and sodium hydroxide.
Under the Basel Convention, which UNEP administers, any nation exporting hazardous waste must obtain prior written permission from the importing country, as well as a permit detailing the contents and destination of the waste.
“We must assist Côte d’Ivoire now, but it cannot end there. We must enforce existing laws in both OECD and developing countries alongside building the capacity for customs authorities and local waste management at ports and elsewhere to minimize the chances of such an incident occurring in the future,” Mr. Steiner said referring to the Organization of Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) that groups 30 industrialized nations.
“One practical step forward that the international community must consider urgently is the ratification and thus bringing into force of the Liability and Compensation Protocol of the Basel Convention,” he added. At present, as an interim measure, the Convention has an emergency fund. But so far, the fund has just $270,000.