for National Geographic News
Vast quantities of obsolete pesticides pose a serious danger to the environment and communities in Africa.
In many countries the toxic chemicals have started to leak from corroding containers and are seeping into soil, groundwater, and rivers.
Now a multimillion dollar international project is underway to rid the continent of the menace. The Africa Stockpiles Program (ASP) will soon send trained personnel to inventory pesticide stockpiles and begin their safe export to Europe for incineration.
Angela Mwandla, the program's coordinator, says estimates of government-controlled stockpiles top 50,000 tons. Private pesticide dumps could raise the figure significantly.
Nearly every African country grapples with the problem. Ethiopia is one of the worst off, with an estimated 3,000 tons of obsolete pesticides.
Mwandla, who is based in Nairobi, Kenya, says the cleanup program could take 15 years and cost about 250 million dollars (U.S.).
The program's first phaseestimated to cost 60 million dollars (U.S.) over six yearswill kick off in Ethiopia, Mali, Tunisia, Morocco, Tanzania, and South Africa.
Problem Decades in the Making
Africa's stockpiles of poisonous chemicals have been accumulating over the past 40 years and longer. The problem has been spurred by poor training, weak controls, and aggressive marketing by chemical manufacturers, who sold countries more pesticides than they needed.
The chemicals include brands such as Dieldron, DDT, and a range of organophosphate pesticides used mainly for crop protection.
Jan Betlem, a Dutch specialist in obsolete-pesticide elimination, painted a grim picture at a recent media briefing in Nairobi, where the cleanup program was announced.
He said many of the stockpiles were found in neglected buildings. Others were found in drums in grasslands, where they were covered by torn tarpaulins and plastic sheets or buried.