Gambian Minister of Environment, Climate Change and Natural Resources, Lamin Dibba, has called on the populace of the country to put up concerted efforts in curbing the negative impacts of pesticides and chemicals.
He noted that his Ministry is aware of the health concerns resulting to local exposure to chemicals especially Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), and the impact upon women and, through them, upon future generations. He added that, considering a community with a low level of awareness, The Gambia has recognised the urgent need to take steps towards the development of an institutional framework for the sound management of chemicals to support a rapidly growing industrial and agricultural sector.
Dibba made these statements during the opening ceremony at the national inception workshop on the institutional capacity building for the implementation of the multi-lateral environment agreements in the Gambia held recently in Banjul. With participants drawn from all walks of life dealing with chemical, the daylong dialogue was designed to build the capacity of stakeholders on the dangers inherent in the utilisation of chemicals, most specially by farmers and women.
The Gambian government is partnering with development partners such as the United nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in implementing the project as part of the implementation of the Multilateral Environment Agreements such as the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), the Basel Convention on control of Trans-boundary movement of hazardous wastes and their disposal, the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure on International trade in Hazardous chemicals, the Minamata Convention on Mercury and the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM).
All the Conventions, Dibba revealed, have a common objective of protection of human health and the environment. He reiterated that the Government of The Gambia attaches high priority to reducing chemicals pollutions and to promoting sound management of chemicals and associated wastes. He pointed out that The Gambia had been working closely with international partners on the implementation of the chemicals Conventions, which it considered crucial to further strengthening international commitment on the reduction of chemicals exposure.
To meet her obligations under the various Conventions, the minister disclosed that Gambia had developed strategies and plans that would outline the situation of chemicals in the country with the ultimate goal to protect human health and the environment from the risks posed by the unsound use, management and releases of chemicals.
He told the participants that, turning to the resources required to implement the MEAs, it is not possible to over-emphasise the importance of consolidating the resource base for assisting countries in the implementation of conventions and other activities to protect human health and the environment. He expressed confidence that the special programme to support institutional strengthening at the national level for implementation of the Basel Convention, the Rotterdam Convention on the Prior Informed Consent Procedure for Certain Hazardous Chemicals and Pesticides in International Trade, the Stockholm Convention, the Minamata Convention and the Strategic Approach to Chemicals Management established by the United Nations Environment Assembly at its first session would play an important role in that regard.
The objective of the Special Programme, he said, is to support country-driven institutional strengthening at the national level, in the context of an integrated approach to address the financing of the sound management of chemicals and wastes, considering the national development strategies, plans and priorities of each country, to increase sustainable public institutional capacity for the sound management of chemicals and wastes throughout their life cycle. Institutional strengthening under the Special Programme will facilitate and enable the implementation of the chemical convention to which The Gambia is a State Party.
The successful implementation of the Special Programme funded projects, he said, would derive a lot from civil society input, and therefore public participation is critical in addressing chemical issues and their health and environmental effects and in developing adequate responses which respond to their situation and circumstances, including opportunities for providing input at the national level regarding implementation of the Conventions.
“Recognising the importance of stakeholder participation, this National Inception Workshop is being held to map out strategies of implementation and to identify roles and responsibility for different stakeholders. Chemicals impacts on many sectors, including policy-making, law-making, environmental protection, agriculture, public health, industry and the private sector, the public and various interest groups. In order to make an effective and successful project, a wide range of stakeholders must be involved and engaged in the process,” Dibba pointed out.
Some of chemicals substances are pesticides, he said whilst many others are industrial chemicals or unwanted products of industrial processes or combustion which are toxic and adversely affect human health and the environment around the world. Because they can be transported by wind and water, most chemicals (POPs) generated in one country can and do affect people and wildlife far from where they are used and released. This therefore calls for the need to engage other countries in the crusade to mitigate negative impacts.
“I would also like to acknowledge the support of the Special Programme Secretariat and other partners in the spirit of cooperation and commitment for working with the Government of HE Adama Barrow in trying to meet our obligations towards Multilateral Environment Agreements. We should all understand that environmental protection thorough sound management of chemicals is not the government’s duty alone; but that all and sundry must demonstrate their commitments and take an active role,” he concluded.
In his welcoming remarks, the Executive Director of the National Environmental Agency (NEA), Momodou Jaama Suwareh, revealed that chemicals are important determinants for sustainable development, sound environmental health and quality of life, but noted that while the use of chemicals in all human activities (such as agriculture, health, energy production, manufacture, services and residential) contribute to improving the quality of life, it also raises concerns about its harmful effects on workers, consumers, the environment and society at large through exposure.
Suwareh further adduced that accidental releases from the distribution, consumption and disposal of chemicals may permanently damage soil, water and air.
He revealed that the Stockholm Convention is a legally binding international instrument, designed to lead to gradual decrease of the presence of persistent organic pollutants in the environment. He noted that the Gambia is a party to the Stockholm Convention. Persistent organic pollutants (POPs) are toxic chemicals that adversely affect human health and the environment around the world.
Because they can be transported by wind and water, Suwareh warned that most POPs generated in one country can and do affect people and wildlife far from where they are used and released, and they persist for long periods of time in the environment and can accumulate and pass from one species to the next through the food chain.
Registrar of Pesticides and Hazardous Chemicals at the NEA, Omar Bah, revealed that the objectives of the workshop are to sensitise stakeholders on the project and its activities, to encourage support, cooperation and commitment from the stakeholders for the implementation of the project, and to foster inter-institutional and bi-lateral collaborations in the implementation of the MEAs.
Bah listed the objectives to include: to capture the experiences, expertise, and concerns of the stakeholders/resource persons and factoring them into the project implementation; to come up with recommendations that will enhance the successful implementation of the project; and to enlighten the people living in The Gambia on sound chemical management.
Some of the expected outcomes, he added, are: to develop and monitor the implementation of national policies, strategies, programmes and legislation for the sound management of chemicals and wastes; promote the adoption, monitoring and enforcement of legislation and regulatory frameworks for the sound management of chemicals and wastes; and promote the mainstreaming of the sound management of chemicals and wastes into national development plans, national budgets, policies, legislation and implementation frameworks at all levels.
The dialogue was facilitated by Kei Ohno-Woodall, a programme officer at the Secretariat of the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm Conventions, who noted that the objective of the Rotterdam Convention is to promote shared responsibility and cooperative efforts among parties in the international trade of certain hazardous chemicals to protect human health and the environment from potential harm and to contribute to their environmentally sound use.
By Sheikh Alkinky Sanyang