Donor Governments Should Support On-Going Côte d’Ivoire Emergency
Time for Donor Governments to Provide Decontamination Support for On-Going Cote D’Ivoire Emergency
Toxic Waste Clean Up and Rehabilitation Plan Will Give Focus for International Financial Assistance
Abidjan/Nairobi, 14 December 2006 - An international mission to support Cote D’Ivoire finalize a strategic plan for dealing with toxic waste dumped in the country was launched today it was announced by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The move is in direct response to a decision taken by governments at an international hazardous waste meeting earlier this month and follows the dumping in August of toxic materials in and around Abidjan—the Cote D’Ivoire capital— with serious and on-going public health and environmental impacts.
The government of Cote D’Ivoire has been struggling to cope with the multi-million dollar financial costs of collecting and dispatching the toxic wastes to France for decontamination.
UNEP is concerned 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.
The government says it 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.
The strategic plan, which will assess measures needed to clean up and rehabilitate contaminated sites along with the costs, will support an international fund raising effort to assist Cote D’Ivoire with its immediate needs.
Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “The recent conference of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal called upon countries and other stakeholders to offer Cote D’Ivoire technical and financial assistance at this difficult time”.
“UNEP’s mission, that starts today, will aim to have the finalized waste plan in place in the shortest possible time so as to address the current concerns. It will, in cooperation with other UN entities and the international community, also provide a basis for the long term rehabilitation also urgently needed,” he added.
“In addition, I am establishing a Trust Fund to provide a fast track mechanism for governments to immediately assist Cote D’Ivoire financially—assistance that is needed urgently and is needed now,” said Mr Steiner.
“For millions if not billions of people around the world, we are fast approaching a special date in the annual calendar-- a date of hope, of fellowship, of celebration, of giving and of reflection. I sincerely hope that compassion will guide governments in echoing to these sentiments. In doing so they can bring comfort to the people of Cote D’Ivoire along with the clear and unequivocal message that they are not alone and that the international community is standing by them with concrete support,” said Mr Steiner.
The mission to assist Cote D’Ivoire draw up the strategy will be led by Sekou Toure, UNEP’s Regional Director for Africa and Pasi Rinne of UNEP’s Disaster Management Branch.
The UNEP mission will work in close cooperation with the UN country team in Cote D’Ivoire. UNEP will seek to coordinate activities under the strategy with all relevant partners in the UN system with a view to ensuring an efficient and harmonized response.
Background to the Toxic Waste Dumping
The full details of the events leading up to the toxic waste dumping in Cote D’Ivoire and those responsible remain subject to national and international legal investigations.
However, it understood that a ship, sailing from Europe, docked in Cote D’Ivoire and unloaded materials onto trucks which proceeded to take these to landfill sites.
Local people, concerned over the smells emanating from the wastes, blocked the dumping and the truck drivers— apparently startled —allegedly released the wastes at sites around the city and in nearby villages.
A report, prepared by the Ivorian authorities, indicates that 16 sites at seven locations were affected including a bread factory, the main civic landfill, roadsides, two abattoirs, lagoons and wastewater systems.
Groundwater supplies to the capital were contaminated along with other drinking water systems. Fisheries near Abidjan were closed as were schools.
Routine waste disposal services have been disrupted because of toxic pollution at the main civic tip leading to rubbish pilling up for months and there has been contamination of the food chain especially meat and fish, according to the Ivorian authorities.
More than 10 people have died, over 100,000 people have sought medical assistance with numbers peaking at 3,600 on 18 September and health centers have been overwhelmed, it is claimed.
More than half of the locations remain to be dealt with and the contamination shipped abroad for decontamination and safe disposal, the Ivorian authorities told the Nairobi conference in late November. There is also concern that more sites may have been affected following the discovery of two new hectares of polluted land.
“The Ivorian authorities have worked as best they can to deal with the situation including establishing mobile health centers, boosting the number of health workers offering free consultations and medicines and identifying and tackling polluted sites. A commission of enquiry was also established and other domestic actions undertaken. International financial and technical assistance is however the missing response,” said Mr Steiner.
UNEP believes it is vital that proper, modern, waste reception facilities and customs and other staff, trained in areas like hazardous waste and illegal shipments, should also be in place in vulnerable developing countries like Cote D’Ivoire.
A workshop, under UNEP’s Green Customs initiative, is now scheduled to take place in West Africa in early 2007.
For More Information Please Contact Nick Nuttall, UNEP Spokesperson, on Tel: +254 20 7623084, Mobile: +254 733 632755, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
UNEP News Release