POLICY OPTIONS FOR ACTION

CHEMICALS

Issues

Although currently Africa is neither a major consumer nor producer of chemicals in global terms, the level of risk faced by poor countries is disproportionately higher than in those with sufficient resources to effectively manage and monitor chemical use. With economic growth, Africa is likely to grow as a producer and consumer of chemical products, increasing the importance of this issue. In particular, Africa will face a growing challenge in the management and monitoring of chemicals due to inadequate human capacity and the lack of technology required for effective M & E.

The increased use of chemicals, particularly in the agricultural sector, may lead to increased contamination of water sources, with adverse effects for both human and ecosystem health (MA 2006). The increased exposure to agricultural and industrial chemicals and waste exacerbates the impacts of traditional environmental health risks in many developing countries. Contaminated sites and obsolete stocks present serious problems for Africa which require immediate actions. Estimates suggest that across Africa at least 50 000 tonnes of obsolete pesticides have accumulated (NEPAD 2003). Continued trade in hazardous waste is likely to exacerbate this problem. And, toxic chemicals that enter the environment place a serious threat to biodiversity and ecosystems, causing disease and undermining essential functions (WWF 2004a).

Outlook

As Africa’s economy grows and GDP per capita increases, the consumption of chemicals for domestic use as well as in the agricultural and industrial sectors is likely to grow (OECD 2001). With the growing use of chemicals there is likely to be increased exposure to them in the workplace as well as in the home. In the agriculture sector, this will put women and children at increased risk of chemical exposure. In many cases, both in subsistence and commercial farming, producers and workers have insufficient knowledge about the health risks posed by chemicals and therefore do not adopt personal protective measures. The increased use of chemicals will place new demands on the already fragile health sector.

Increased chemical use will contribute to increased environment degradation and pollution. Developments in the agricultural sector may lead to the increased use of agricultural chemicals, contaminating water sources and threatening ecosystem viability. These developments will place both human and environmental health and well-being at risk (UN 2004). The contamination of water sources may lead to a decrease in the environmental goods-and-services freshwater systems supply, as well as reduce the ability to meet the MDG targets on the provision of safe water.

Increased chemical use will increase the risk of chemical production accidents and the likelihood of pollution through industrial waste discharge. This will place a new burden on chemical management systems, and place new challenges on governments to effectively regulate and develop appropriate M & E systems.