East Africa: An investigation on toxic dumping in East Africa

toxicated birdtoxicated birdBy WANJOHI KABUKURU – East Africa has them. They are hazardous, portend grim and fatal implications and adversely affect all living things.

These are obsolete pesticides which are defined as “stocked pesticides that can no longer be used for their original purpose or any other purpose and therefore require disposal.”

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that three million people are poisoned and 200,000 die each year due to pesticides. A majority of these casualties are drawn from vulnerable, poverty stricken populations, agricultural workers and children.

According to Pesticides Action Network (PAN) this problem stems from a cluster of factors. “Causes of the problem are many and include the banning of pesticide products after import into the country, supply of banned products to countries in the form of aid, oversupply or duplicate supply by different aid agencies, poorly packaged or labeled products and inappropriate formulations of pesticides for local use.”

The East African governments are not candid on the stocks they have on obsolete pesticides. My attempts to get this information hits a brick wall. I therefore turn to the Rome based Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). According to FAO estimates  the amount of obsolete pesticides in East Africa currently stands at around 3,000 tonnes. Not a single East African Community country is free of the ignominy posed by these poisons.

“In Eastern Africa we estimate that there are in the region of 3,000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides. We are currently working in Tanzania and in discussions with Kenya and Malawi. We have pretty much completed cleanup in Mozambique and do not have a great deal of current information from Uganda. Rwanda has some known stocks that have been buried some time ago, we have no information on Burundi.” Mark Davis the senior officer at FAO’s Pesticide Management, Plant Production and Protection  Division says.

Nearly half of the 3,000 tonnes are said to be amongst the dreaded persistent organic pollutants (POPs), the blacklisted ‘dirty dozen’ pesticides which have been banned worldwide. “These pesticides seriously threaten the health of both rural and urban populations, especially the poorest of the poor, and contribute to land degradation and water pollution.” Ethiopian scientist Alemayehu Wodageneh warns.

According to the Stockholm Convention there are several sites in Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Comoros that are heavily contaminated. These include, Kitengela, Wajir, Mandera (Kenya), Dire Dawa, Addis Ababa, Oromiya, (Ethiopia), Gisenyi and Gikongoro in Rwanda and Anjouan, Moheli and Grand Comore in Comoros.

The problem of disposing obsolete pesticides is slow as most of these countries lack the appropriate technology for such an exercise. Indeed there are inadequate waste destruction facilities in the region today as these countries lack adequate high-temperature incinerators. At the moment the cost of incinerating obsolete pesticides stands at $3500 per tonne.

I visited the Kitengela site in Kajiado County south of Nairobi, where banned, highly restricted and obsolete pesticides are officially stored. The store was built in 1967. A study conducted in the year 2005 under the auspices of International Persistent Organic Pesticides (IPEP) project found the site and the vicinity to be highly contaminated. Among the pesticides stored included Aldrin, Dieldrin Heptachlor, Endrin and the now famous Furadan.

For decades now the US agro-chemical giant Farm Machinery Company (FMC) has been knowingly exporting for sale a highly restricted chemical to the East African Community (EAC) block countries of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. The chemical trading as Furadan but well known scientifically as carbofuran was on sale in Kenya until late 2009. It is imported in Kenya as a ‘seed dressing agent for control of soil dwelling and foliar feeding insects’. Furadan is both an insecticide and nematicide and at the centre of a bitter row pitting environmental conservationists on the one side against agro-chemical traders and the government on the other.

There are two forms of the pesticide, granular and liquid. The granular form was phased out in the US by Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1991.

Indeed the Furadan saga has just revealed the dirty dealings of western chemical giants with complicity of local merchants and civil servants who use Africa as a dumping ground for banned, restricted and obsolete pesticides in Africa.

Before it was withdrawn from the Kenyan market in 2009 the granular Furadan which was retailing for $1.25, had reportedly decimated wildlife in Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. Furadan has been associated with the rampant poisoning resulting in the deaths of 187 African white backed vultures (Gyps africanus) in 2004 alone, other raptors, two dozen lions and a general decline by 77% of vulture population in Laikipia in Kenya. Not to mention deaths of camels, hyenas, lions and hippos.

Though the granular carbofuran was phased out in 1991 in the US it found its way to East Africa as Furadan and was only withdrawn from the Kenyan agrovet shelves in 2009, after complaints from conservationists and farmers. According to the records of the Kenya’s pesticide regulator the Pesticide Control and Produce Board (PCPB) a statutory state corporation in the Ministry of Agriculture carbofuran (the main ingredient of Furadan) which was registered in Kenya in 1989 was banned in Kenya in 2004.

Little has changed in the Kitengela site.  In 2005 the International POPs Elimination Project undertook a study at the Kitengela site. In its report titled Hotspot Report for a Contaminated Site: Kitengela Obsolete Pesticides Store in Kenya it was reveled that respiratory disease, emission of irritating pungent smell, skin ailments and death of livestock was prevalent in the areas adjacent to the obsolete pesticides site.

The site still remains a risk especially with the increase of population oblivious of the dangers posed by the Ministry of Agriculture site.

While East African nations are yoked with the dangers of pesticides the fact is, they are minnows when it comes to pesticide production. The five major pesticide producing nations are Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland and the US. China, India and Brazil are also hovering around the major players. The waste management industry in Europe has a turnover of €100 million. So if East Africa is not a producer of pesticides how comes the region is saddled with obsolete pesticides. The answer is simple: Dumping.

Way back in 1977, during the United Nations Environmental Program meeting, the then Kenya’s minister for Water Development Dr. Julius Kiano thundered, “Stop using us as dumping ground.” At a time when political correctness was the norm Kiano went against the grain: “Kenya detests the use of developing countries as experimental dumping grounds for chemical products that have been banned or have not been adequately tested.” he warned.

In 1992 the then United Nations Environment Programme Executive Director, Dr Mostafa Tolba accused the Italian mafia of dumping toxic waste in Somalia. Nobody took him seriously.

For years now such allegations of toxic waste dumping off Somalia by European companies were an open secret, but little action was taken and the allegations were treated as mere rumours. It wasn’t until the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami that the truth of such allegations came to light when broken hazardous waste containers were washed up to Somali shores.

Come 2008 and Tolba’s 16-year old claims were echoed by the then United Nations representative to Somali, Ahmedou Ould Abdalla who said:

“I am convinced there is dumping of solid waste, chemicals and probably nuclear waste. There is no government and there are few people with high moral ground. It is a disaster off the Somali coast, a disaster (for) the Somali environment, the Somali population,”

Earlier this year at the African Union meeting on Maritime and Security Somali’s deputy Premier Abdulrahman Adan Ibrahim Ibbi noted.

“If the international community wants to limit acts of piracy, it has to help Somalis keep illegal foreign fishing and toxic waste dumping away from their coasts,” Deputy Prime Minister Ibbi said. “We appeal the delegates attending this assembly to share with my government the clearance of toxic material and nuclear waste containers dumped in African coastal areas,” he added. Some of the containers came to surface when tsunami tidal waves hit Indian Ocean countries in 2004, he added in a speech.

I travelled to Kenya’s northern most coastal island to inquire if the side effects of the dumping in Somali waters had been felt in the Kenyan islands.

The Lamu District Public Health Officer Athman Dumila Mohd

The Lamu District Public Health Officer Athman Dumila Mohd

“We have also heard about the dumping in Somali and we have been very much concerned. Together with our fisheries, police and marine officers we have been very keen monitoring aquatic life. So far we haven’t observed anything unusual.” Athman Dumila Mohd, the Lamu District Public Health Officer tells me. “Human beings can lie, but marine and aquatic beings cannot lie when exposed to any harmful toxic waste and poison. If the dumping is done in the ocean trust me dead fish will be floating all over the sea. They are very sensitive to ecological changes.”

This being a sensitive matter affecting the Western Indian Ocean shelf and more so fish stocks I pose the same questions of toxic dumping to the Seychelles based authoritative Tuna commission, the Indian Ocean Tuna Commission (IOTC) Executive Secretary Alejandro Anganuzzi.

“This is the first time that we hear this claim. In the past, we have heard claims about the relationship between piracy and illegal fishing, but not a relationship between toxic dumping and the depletion to fish stocks.” says Anganuzzi. “There are no studies to support that claim. IOTC scientists have not looked into this issue, because there is no data on the nature and frequency of the toxic dumping in the past that could be related to depletion in the fish stocks. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that dumping would have been at such a level that it would have affected a highly migratory and abundant resource such as the various species of tuna.”

It seems the dumping wasn’t in the Indian Ocean but in the Somali hinterland.

I seek out the international environmental watchdog Greenpeace for details. Patrizia Cuonzo of Greenpeace provides me with the latest Greenpeace report titled “The Toxic Ships: The Italian Hub, The Mediterranean Area and Africa” released in June 2010. The no-holds barred report traces the Mafia links to Somali toxic dumping and end up calling for an independent investigation on the Somali dumping:

“Based on the findings Greenpeace believes that: UN must carry on an independent assessment on the alleged dumping of toxic and radioactive waste in Somalia, particularly in the area of the port of Eel Ma’aan; EU must finally implement its own toxic waste prevention measures, which are one of the pillars of the EU waste policy; The Italian Government must create a strong coordination among all the investigative Authorities (Procura della Repubblica) which have been, and still are, working on the issue of toxic and radioactive waste trade, to identify and neutralize the network of people and enterprises managing the illegal waste trade shipped to Developing Countries (and possibly dumped into the sea) with the help of criminal networks and the support of State Civil Servants.”

And that explains the conundrum of toxic dumping.