Although the use of chemicals has supported the development of industry and agriculture, and generated broad health benefits through the management of disease, there are serious risks to human health and environmental sustainability associated with chemical use, making this a critical area to which Africa needs to turn its attention. The global nature of chemicals issues requires a comprehensive and global approach that brings together all stakeholders.

Several social and economic trends make sound management essential if development options are not to be foreclosed. Africans will face increased exposure to chemicals as a result of the growth of global trade in chemicals, changing production patterns and the predicted relocation of chemical production to developing countries, the growing market for chemical products, increasing urbanization and the lack of adequate resources for infrastructural development and maintenance particularly in the water sector, and increased industrial employment and corresponding work place exposure to chemicals.

There is a need for improved coordination and cooperation between global, regional and national levels to identify gaps, reduce duplication, maximize institutional efficiency and develop synergies. However the success of MEAs must ultimately be assessed at the national level. It is essential for Africa to focus on creating an integrated policy approach and viable institutional mechanisms to support this. At the national level chemical environmental laws will need to be updated in line with the current scientific knowledge.

In facing the increased management challenges, national governments could, in line with regional and global trends, focus their attention specifically on (UNEP 2006):

  • Risk reduction – prevention of and preparedness for accidents and natural disasters.
  • Information and knowledge – improving the accessibility of information on hazardous chemicals.
  • Governance – integration of SAICM objectives into national development planning.
  • Capacity-building and technical assistance – promotion of life cycle approaches to chemicals management.
  • Illegal international traffic – symposium on illegal international traffic in chemicals and hazardous wastes.