By Nesia Mhaka
Nine African countries including Zimbabwe, have received a USD10,5 million grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF) for implementation of a health and environment project, to promote the management of chemicals with an interest of safeguarding public health.
The five-year project, ‘‘Integrated Health and Environment Observatories and Legal and Institutional Strengthening for the Sound Management of Chemicals in Africa -African ChemObs’, is expected to reduce health hazards emanating from chemicals.
ChemObs is a United Nations – GEF -supported project for the sound management of chemicals in Africa.
GEF was set up in October 1991, with a view to providing new and additional grants and concessional funding to cover additional costs associated with transforming a project with national benefits to one with global environmental benefits.
The newly implemented Africa ChemsObs project aims at developing integrated guidance to build capacity to set up an integrated health and environment observatory surveillance.
It (the project) also intends to promote information management systems that would enable African countries to establish evidence-based policies and make sustainable decisions on sound management of chemicals and related disease burdens.
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) is the implementing agency of the project while the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Africa Institute (AI) are the executing agencies.
Apart from Zimbabwe, the project is also being implemented in other eight countries including; Ethiopia, Gabon, Kenya, Madagascar, Mali Senegal, Tanzania, Zambia.
In its quarterly bulletin, Zimbabwe’s Environmental Management Agency (EMA), said the project is in line with the United Nations’’ resolution on the sound management of chemicals in the interest of safeguarding public health.
“Implementation of the project will result in improved capacity for data collection through chemical life-cycle, establishing integrated health and environmental monitoring and surveillance system, reducing risks posed by chemicals and raising community awareness, a formal mechanism for intersectional coordination for health and environment, an improved understanding of the link between health and environment issues, to facilitate effective policymaking, ‘’ says EMA.
The project also enables countries to meet their reporting obligations under the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions, and thus Sustainable, Development Goal ( 12.4.1) to promote evidence-based policymaking, increase investment on chemical and waste infrastructure.
“It addresses in particular, the necessary improvements to be made in the fields of awareness, knowledge, information management and communication on chemicals to support and provide an enabling framework for measures and actions to be taken,” reads part of the bulletin.
It added that the steering committee for the project was established comprising officials from the environment, health and mining sectors.
GEF said the project initiative came after the realisation of the continued, improperly, or the unsafe disposal of chemicals which poses significant risks to both the environment and human health in Africa.
Due to the global impact on human health and the environment, some of these highly dangerous chemicals are controlled by international law, GEF says.
The organisation also said, among the most significant agreements that cover the way chemicals are used and managed at the end of their lifespan, are the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants, the Minamata Convention on Mercury, and the Montreal Protocol, on substances that deplete the ozone layer.
“Despite the advances made under these agreements, the production, use, and disposal of chemicals are rapidly increasing in developing countries and countries in economic transition.
“These rapid changes increase economic opportunities, but they must be matched by enhanced programmes and initiatives for sound chemicals and waste management. The cost to national economies on human and environmental exposure to harmful chemicals is often unrecognised, but can be substantial,” said GEF.
The uncontrolled application of chemicals in Africa has led to the destruction of the continent’s ecological balance, according to GEF.
“Complicating matters further, in the pursuit of new materials and chemicals, many manufacturers do not always conduct sufficient analysis of the potentially harmful impacts of their products before they are used commercially, which often results in significant harm to humans as well as wild species and terrestrial, freshwater, and marine ecosystems, ‘’ says the UN institution.