Cote D’Ivoire Toxic Waste Clean-Up Reaches Critical Stage-Donor Assistance Now Essential
Country Facing Multi-Million Dollar Shortfall for Overseas Decontamination Bill
Nairobi, 20 December 2006 - One of the world’s poorest countries, struggling to rid itself of thousands of tonnes of toxic waste dumped in its capital city from sources overseas appears to have run out of the funds needed to retrieve all the pollution and make it safe.
A mission, conducted by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in cooperation with other UN agencies has just returned from Cote D’Ivoire learning that the authorities there estimate a clean-up funding shortfall of at least 15 million Euros.
The funds are needed to pay a private company which is shipping the toxic waste and polluted soil to France where it is being decontaminated.
The Ivorian authorities estimate that around 9,200 tonnes of contaminated soil has been collected costing an estimated 30 million Euros to retrieve, ship and treat. However, the government has only been able to secure half of the costs leaving 15 million Euros outstanding.
Meanwhile the authorities estimate that in addition, a further 3,200 tonnes of contaminated soil remains to be handled—the legacy of an incident that occurred in August when a ship sailing from Europe arrived in the country and discharged hazardous wastes disposed of in Ivorian landfills.
Local people, alarmed at the noxious smells, blocked trucks carrying the wastes and the pollution was allegedly strewn in and around the capital, Abidjan.
An estimated 10 people died and thousands more fell ill as a result of the dumping, the Ivorian authorities claim.
Achim Steiner, UN Under Secretary-General and Executive Director of UNEP, said: “To date the world has watched the tragedy of Cote D’Ivoire unfold but has so far failed to assist with the financial support the authorities there so urgently need”.
UNEP argues that irrespective of who will or who will not be held liable for this incident, people of one of the world’s poorest countries-- who have already paid dearly for this irresponsible act of hazardous waste dumping--are now also being forced to pay the bill for removal and clean up operations.
Mr Steiner added: “ A few weeks ago the Ivorian government informed us that it was is having to make tough, and what UNEP considers unacceptable choices for a country where many people live on less than a dollar a day including whether to pay the clean-up bill or the wages of medical staff at local hospitals”.
“Now they say they have simply run out of funds making it impossible for them to complete the clean-up and safe disposal of the toxic wastes in the Europe. Until assistance from others is forthcoming, it is almost impossible for the Ivorian authorities to move on towards the wider challenges such as rehabilitating contaminated sites, cleansing contaminated infrastructure like water supply systems and the broader human health and humanitarian needs,” he added.
Mr Steiner said it was time for international donors including countries in Europe and North America to demonstrate solidarity and compassion with the people of Cote D’Ivoire.
A Trust Fund, into which international funds can be deposited in order to assist with the clean-up, has been established by UNEP at the request of governments recently attending a hazardous waste meeting at the organization’s headquarters.
The mission, which has just returned, was dispatched to assist Cote D’Ivoire finalize a strategic waste plan in light of the on-going emergency.
UNEP is working in close cooperation with the UN country team in Cote D’Ivoire. UNEP is coordinating its activities with all relevant partners in the UN system with a view to ensuring an efficient and harmonized response.
Background to the Incident as Communicated to the United Nations by
the Ivorian Authorities
At the early hours of Monday 21 August 2006, inhabitants of several parts of the district of Abidjan were awoken with thick and suffocating smell. Alerted, the Ministry of Environment and Forestry mobilized its services whose initial investigations led to the discovery of the dumping of some products on several sites of the District of Abidjan. These investigations led to:
• the discovery that these products originated from a Ship with a Panamanean flag, the «PROBO KOALA » whose co-signatory is a company called « WAIBS ». WAIBS was co-opted by « TOMMY » a company specializing in the draining, maintenance and holding of ships at the Autonomous Harbor of Abidjan to dump the product (about 528 cubic meter, equivalent of 400 tons) on different sites around the district of Abidjan,
• the conclusion that the material dumped on the sites were toxic in view of Laboratory analyses;
• the identification of 16 dumping sites.
The incident has become a crisis and a real tragedy from sanitary, psychological, ecological and socio-economical perspectives. It led to massive displacement of the residents living near the dump sites. Public and violent demonstrations took place throughout the district.
In order to understand the full implications of the crisis and ensure its proper and efficient management a Crisis committee was established within the Ministry of Environment and Forestry on Tuesday 22 August 2006.
The Prime Minister put in place an inter-ministerial committee on 24 August 2006.
The Attorney General opened an investigation. Following this procedure, several people implicated in the toxic waste dump operations were detained.
The Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention on the trans-boundary movement of toxic waste to which Cote d’Ivoire is party was informed with a request for technical assistance.
In view of the magnitude of the crisis, the Prime Minister and the Government resigned on 7 September 2006. A new Government was formed with the Ministers in charge of environment and transport replaced by new individuals. The heads of the customs services, the Abidjan Harbor and the Governor of the District of Abidjan were all relieved of their duties.
The management of the acute moment of the crisis of the toxic waste dump between 19 August and 18 September 2006 was done on the basis of emergency plans drawn up as appropriate by various sectoral ministries in the absence of a comprehensive strategic plan. Each ministry concerned acted according to their individual mandates with coordination provided by the Inter-ministerial Committee.
In view of the magnitude of the situation and to enhance coordination the Government established by decree n°171/PM/CAB of 18 September 2006, the Operational Coordination Unit of the Action Plan with the mandate to coordinate and evaluate activities undertaken in the context of remediation as a result of the toxic waste dump, ensure coherence and efficiency in the management of the crisis caused by the toxic waste dump and operationalize the national action plan to combat toxic waste.
In addition to coordinating the activities of the various ministries, the Unit focused its attention between 18 September and mid November 2006 on the collection operations of the toxic wastes and their transport for treatment which it contracted out to a private French company (TREDI) of the group Séché. State interest was handled by BNETD (a national company) and SGS (an international company) that provided technical and administrative control over the obligations of TREDI while also ensuring the qualitative and quantitative supervision of the operations/activities.
The collection operations on the 16 sites were the wastes were dumped included the removal of contaminated soils, decontamination and/or destruction of containers and open canals and sewers.
Priority of the Objective of the Strategic Plan 2006-2009
The economic impacts of the operations of the emergency phase estimated at 25 billion francs CFA, in a context of heighten socio-political tension and economic crisis led Côte d’Ivoire to share its constraints with the international community.
The 8th Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention on the control of trans-boundary movement of hazardous waste held in Nairobi, Kenya 27 November - 1er December 2006 gave the opportunity to Cote d’Ivoire to make a strong case to the Parties to be assisted in the management of the crisis.
Having noted the magnitude of the problem and the limited response from the international community, the Conference of the Parties adopted Decision No. UNEP/CHW.8/CPR.25 of 1er December 2006 inviting:
• Parties to the Basel convention as well as other countries in the position to do so, to provide technical and financial assistance to Cote d’Ivoire to help the country implement its emergency plan, in particular, the implementation of the following activities:
- Immediate removal of the toxic wastes and contaminated soils and materials,
- Complete evaluation of the level of contamination of the various ecosystems and population and the impacts of these contamination;
- Investigation to establish liability;
• The Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme to assist in the mobilization of financial resources needed for the above measures ;
• The Executive Director of the United Nations to keep the Parties informed on progress in financial resources mobilization.
To ensure speedy implementation of this decision, the Government of Cote d’Ivoire and the Executive Director of UNEP agreed to the establishment of a trust fund within UNEP to receive contributions from Parties.
It is in view of the above that the Government of Cote d’Ivoire has revised its national strategic plan 2006-2009 to handle toxic waste dumped from the Probo Koala and their impact on the environment and health of the population. This plan is also an emergency plan to mobilize funds and assist Côte d’Ivoire in its effort to handle the catastrophe.
II. National strategic plan
The overall objective is to propose «a strategic national framework 2006-2009 to manage toxic wastes dumped from the Probo Koala and their impacts on the environment and the health of the population». The specific objectives with respect to the overall objective are to define strategies, activities and resources needed in the short, medium and long terms for five focus areas:
• The decontamination of the site, monitoring and protection of the environment;
• Carrying for and protection of the population against any exposure risks to toxic wastes;
• Adequate medical care and monitoring of the patients as well as long term sanitary monitoring of the effects of exposure to the toxic wastes;
• Secure the food chain, including water supply for the populations following the toxic waste dump ;
• Monitor and evaluate the plan.
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