Obsolete Stockpiles in South Africa – Disposal with a cure

As the eagle was killed by the arrow winged with his own feather, so the hand of the world is wounded by its own skill.
Helen Keller (1880-1968)

It was in February that the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT) held a workshop for the development of a National Implementation Plan (NIP) for the management of Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and strategies to clean up and prevent future accumulation of unwanted stocks of pesticides under the Africa Stockpiles Programme (ASP). The ASP was, initially initiated by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) and the Pesticide Action Network (PAN) to clean up stockpiled pesticides and pesticide-contaminated waste (e.g., containers and equipment) in Africa in an environmentally sound manner; catalyze development of prevention measures; and provide capacity building and institutional strengthening on important chemicals-related issues.

Since South Africa had been selected as one of the recipient countries to receive grants from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) to develop strategies for the management of POPs, but in the form of NIPs. It was understood that the feedback received from participants by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) during the meeting would be feed into a draft document to be submitted to the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) for funding of phase one, which was the inventory phase. Information was also needed for the developmental phase, preparatory phase, disposal phase, prevention phase, capacity building and grant agreement negotiations.

The meeting I attended was held at the Holiday Inn Garden Court, Pretoria. Upon arrival, I was disappointed to see that not many stakeholders had been invited to or had attended the workshop considering that the accumulation of obsolete pesticides in South Africa is such a contentious issue and that the urgent cleanup of obsolete pesticides and associated waste and the prevention of further accumulation in African countries requires a multi-stakeholder approach. Of the stakeholders present, only four were from civil society. Surprisingly, none of the Unions such as farmers and farm workers were present since it is these individuals who may be able to substantially contribute to the stockpile inventory if we are to end up with a comprehensive stockpile database for disposal.

The honourable deputy minister of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, Rejoice Mabudafhasi gave the opening address at the meeting. I was glad to hear the minister state that the ASP process does not seek to apportion blame or punish those who declare their stocks, but that all multi-stakeholders should focus on prevention of future accumulation, which is as important as disposal of existing stockpiles.

I was disappointed to see that the agenda for the workshop, under the section disposal phase, that non-burn technologies were not included as an option. I was also flabbergasted to see incinerator vendors present at the meeting and that they were given a slot to present their thermal treatment. I shook my head in dismay and considered this unacceptable considering that since the beginning of the ASP, public interest groups have voiced their concerns over the project pushing for the burning of these wastes in incinerators since incinerators contribute substantially to global pollution by producing deadly poisons such as dioxins and furans. It was iniquitous that private companies were present at the meeting presenting thermal technology before the inventory was complete and before we know what types of waste we are dealing with.

I thought that it would be ironic if Africa was left standing with a new legacy of polluting incinerators set up to destroy an earlier legacy caused by pesticides dumped on Africa by aid and trade organizations. Also, since our South African government has ratified the Stockholm Convention, it is imperative that dirty technology be phased out.

At the meeting, NGO’s had voiced their concerns about the “flaw” of the agenda with regard to the deliberate omission of non-combustion technologies. The FAO was unimpressed and viewed some NGO’s as disrupting the process. The FAO at the meeting had stated that comments on the draft agenda were sent out to participants in December. However, no agenda was sent out to groundWork, and one cannot make comments on a document if it has not been received. Whether this act was deliberate seemed questionable. Was it that certain organizations would disrupt the rubber-stamping decisions that were already made? Was incineration already considered as an option for the disposal of pesticides? Whatever the reason, it must be a goal that incineration must not be allowed as an option for disposal in the ASP process, since internationally, there has been a move away from this polluting technology. This has been true for countries such as America, India, Greece, Germany, France, Turkey, Japan, The Netherlands, Costa Rica and the Phillipines.

Personally, I found the meeting attended to be rushed and conducted simply to meet a submission deadline within a week from the meeting. If in future deliberations, this is indeed to be the case, then civil society organizations would have serious reservations about an apparent ‘steam-rolling’ process, considering the fact that a multi-stakeholder approach to the ASP is required. I am sure that civil society would rather be involved in and support the process rather than seeing it progressing hastily. It is advisable that the FAO be more cautious as to how the process progresses rather than scurry for deadlines.

However, despite some of the disagreements during the meeting, some positive positions seemed to have emerged. What came through clear was that delegates saw the ASP process as an opportunity to develop a model for other countries in the region and an opportunity for South Africa suppliers to supply materials and services to other countries involved in the ASP. There was a clear drive from all delegates that where possible South African expertise and capacity should be used to achieve the aims of both ASP and NIP, with a minimum amount of input from external suppliers/consultants. Finally, it was felt that the ASP and NIPs projects should provide an opportunity for RSA to demonstrate their commitment to fulfil their obligations as stated under the international conventions.

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