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Bamako Convention urges Africa’s protection from illegal waste dumping during COVID-19 crisis

The Bureau of Conference of Parties to the BamakoConvention on the Ban of the Import into Africa and the Control of Transboundary Movement and Management of Hazardous Wastes within Africa has called upon African countries to increase vigilance to protect the continent from illegal dumping of medical and hazardous waste, especially during the ongoing health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Arlette Soudan-Nonault
Arlette Soudan-Nonault, President of the Bamako Convention and Minister of Tourism and Environment of the Republic of the Congo

The Bureau cautioned that the current COVID-19 pandemic is generating huge amounts of hazardous medical waste as well as increased use of plastics which may cause serious health and environmental consequences in Africa.

“The commitment to achieve the objectives of our Convention is clear. With the increased medical waste generation as countries respond to the COVID-19, Africa will continue to face waste disposal challenges,” said Arlette Soudan-Nonault, President of the Bureau and Minister of Tourism and Environment of the Republic of the Congo.

Alerted by the recent illicit exportation of hazardous waste materials to Tunisia and Liberia, the Bureau urgently met on March 16, 2021 to urge Parties to the Convention to use every diplomatic and legal means to stop the illegal hazardous and illegal waste dumping into Africa.

The President of the Convention took this opportunity to reiterate that cases of illegal importation of waste in Africa should be treated in accordance to the Bamako Convention, strictly and without exception, prohibiting the import of hazardous waste into African countries.

In Tunisia, the illegal importation of about 282 containers of hazardous waste, which include household waste from Italy, has caught the attention of the authorities in the North African country.

Authorities in Tunisia informed the Convention’s Bureau that the containers have been illegally imported by a Tunisian company and which has no capacity to safely process and dispose the hazardous waste received from an Italian exporter.

“The exporters have used illegal procedures and tried to exploit loopholes in our importation processes to ship 120,000 tons of hazardous household waste to Tunisia. This is a violation of the Bamako Convention. These are hazardous waste materials which should not have been exported to any other country in Africa,” said Youssef Zidi, Ministry of the Environment, Tunisia.

The Tunisian representative informed the Bureau that the hazardous waste materials were exported into his country between May and July 2020 and the Italian exporter failed to ascertain the capacity of the Tunisian firm to manage the household waste in an environmentally sound manner.

According to the Tunisian environment protection authorities, the importation of the hazardous waste did not comply with their national laws nor the procedures under the Bamako Convention which totally bans the importation of hazardous waste in Africa.

In addition to Tunisia, the Chief Executive Officer of the Environmental Protection Agency of Liberia, Wilson Tarpeh, addressed the Bureau to present a comprehensive report on the recent shipment of four containers of contaminated plastic waste by a Greek exporter.

The Liberian Environmental Protection Agency has made a formal complaint against the shipment of the hazardous waste to the Government of Greece and the European Union.

The representative of the government of Liberia said the shipment was illegal and a violation of the Bamako Convention, indicating that the European Union has initiated an investigation into the matter. He said that the containers are still in Liberia since they were imported despite the shipping company visiting Liberia without a formal undertaking to repatriate the containers back to Greece.

The Bureau of the Bamako Convention urged all African countries to join the Convention and accelerate the implementation of national and regional plans for the management of hazardous waste. It also requested Parties as well as international partners to support the affected countries to ship the hazardous waste materials back to countries of origin.

“The coasts of Africa deserve a clean environment. Your perseverance on this matter will keep us on the goals. It is quite disheartening to receive the reports of the shipment of unwanted waste to Tunisia and Liberia. We need mechanisms to reverse these illicit pathways of hazardous waste,” said Chris Mushava in a statement delivered on behalf of the Minister of Environment, Climate, Tourism and Hospitality Industry of Zimbabwe.

The President of the Bamako Convention, Arlette Soudan-Nonault, noted that addressing these challenges are more urgent, adding that the Convention must play its role in raising awareness of African countries to strengthen the control of their borders to ensure protection of the environment and the health of their populations.

The Bamako Convention is a treaty of African nations prohibiting the import into Africa of any hazardous waste. The Convention came into force in 1998.

The Bamako Convention is a response to Article 11 of the Basel Convention which encourages parties to enter into bilateral, multilateral and regional agreements on hazardous waste to help achieve the objectives of the Convention.

The Convention reportedly covers more wastes than covered by the Basel Convention as it not only includes radioactive wastes but also considers any waste with a listed hazardous characteristic or a listed constituent as a hazardous waste.

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