Liability for Côte D’Ivoire Hazardous Waste Clean-Up
Nairobi, 24 November 2006 --International financial assistance should be swiftly mobilized to pay for the clean up and rehabilitation of contaminated sites in Côte D’Ivoire as a result of fresh information indicating that the final costs of a dumping incident in August could reach into the millions of dollars.
The call was made today by Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UN Environment Programme (UNEP) Executive Director, on the eve of an international meeting of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal.
The central theme of the meeting is the issue of electronic waste – or e-waste – as a result of the 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 wastes in the West African country.
Mr Steiner said he had been informed by the Ivorian authorities that, following initial emergency assistance, the country was now having to use its own public funds to pay a private company for the retrieval, shipment and processing of the toxic waste in France.
The costs of this operation allied to the medium and long term rehabilitation of affected sites could approach $30 million, according to the Ivorian authorities.
“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,” said Mr Steiner.
Delegates from across the world are arriving at UNEP’s headquarters in Nairobi for the next week’s five day-long Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention which was set up to deal with the issue of hazardous waste shipments.
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.
Indeed he warned that cases like this could escalate unless existing international regulations on toxic wastes, including those under the International Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships (MARPOL), are properly enforced and gaps between various treaties closed.
A 2005 report by the European Network for the Implementation and Enforcement of Environmental Law (IMPEL) indicates that illegal trade is on the rise.
A joint enforcement operation carried out in 17 European seaports examined 3,000 shipping documents and physically inspected 258 cargo holds. Of these, 140 were waste shipments, of which 68 – or some 48% – turned out to be illegal.
“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,” added Mr Steiner.
Mrs. Kuwabara-Yamamoto, the Executive Secretary of the Basel Convention said: “One of the important lessons from the situation in Abidjan is that we have a serious problem with enforcement. National and international laws are in place to regulate these exports, but problems arise because of the lack of legal and technical institutional capacity in many developing countries to monitor traffic across their borders. Strengthening the enforcement capacity of the Parties will therefore remain a priority for the Basel Convention in years to come”.
Mr Steiner added: “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”.
The Protocol, which has as its objective the provision of a comprehensive regime for liability and compensation for damage resulting from the transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes, including illegal traffic in those wastes, has so far been ratified by just seven countries when it needs 20 ratifications to enter into force.
At present, as an interim measure, the Basel Convention has an emergency fund. But so far, the fund has just $270,000.
“It would seem reasonable and sensible to considerably boost the resources of the emergency fund so that the international community can have a specific and well-funded response to hazardous waste dumping incidents that are occurring in Africa and other developing countries far too often,” said Mr Steiner.
Notes to Editors
The Eighth Meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention will be held at UNEP headquarters in Gigiri, Nairobi from 27 November to 1 December 2006 www.basel.int
The Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal is the most comprehensive global environmental agreement on hazardous and other wastes.
It has over 160 Parties and aims to protect human health and the environment against the adverse effects resulting from the generation, management, transboundary movements and disposal of hazardous and other wastes.
The Basel Convention regulates the transboundary movements of hazardous and other wastes and obliges its Parties to ensure that such wastes are managed and disposed of in an environmentally sound manner. The Convention covers toxic, poisonous, explosive, corrosive, flammable, ecotoxic and infectious wastes.
Parties are also expected to minimize the quantities that are moved across borders, to treat and dispose of wastes as close as possible to their place of generation and to prevent or minimize the generation of wastes at source. The Basel Convention came into force in 1992.
For more information please contact UNEP Spokesperson Nick Nuttall at +254-207-623084, +254-733-632755 (cell), E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or Michael Williams at +41-22-917-8242/8196/8244, +41-79-409-1528 (cell), E-mail: email@example.com; Nicole Dawe, Basel Convention Information Officer, on + 41 79 212 47 26, E-mail: Nicole.Dawe@unep.ch
UNEP News Release 2006/58