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Defusing Ethiopia’s toxic time bomb

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It’s the beginning of the end for Ethiopia’s stores of DDT, an internationally restricted pesticide. The East African country is moving to eliminate once and for all the largest officially reported global stockpile of the toxic chemical.

In fact, in just one warehouse in Adama, Ethiopia’s second largest city, about 500 metric tons of DDT are stored in a locked, disorganized warehouse piled high with plastics, cardboard, pallets and general rubble. Mixed throughout the rubbish are the tell-tale yellow plastic DDT pouches, many of them split and leaking. A stubborn metal sliding door, a padlock, some flimsy wire and a few paper “DDT” stickers are all that keep the toxic pile inside the building. Cows graze on the grass outside. The area is mixed residential-industrial.

Soon however, the site will be history thanks to a partnership between the Ethiopian Government, UN Environment and the Global Environment Facility.

UN Environment technical consultant Russell Cobban visited the site in October to conduct safety and inventory training with Ethiopian counterparts. Entering the building wasn’t possible.

“Unfortunately it’s a little bit chaotic, not as organized as you would probably like,” he says.

Mr Cobban’s visit is tied to the start of a five-year project to clean up Ethiopia’s DDT stocks. And if the state of the warehouse warns of the task’s difficulty, Mr Cobban is confident the Ethiopians he has helped train can meet the challenge: “I think it’s achievable particularly with the motivation the Ethiopian government is showing and also its capacity.”

Cleaning up the site will also prevent chemicals leaking into the environment while eliminating the risk of the pesticide being sold on the black market.

The war on Persistent Organic Pollutants

DDT, or Dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethane, has been used as a pesticide since the 1960s. Its relatively low cost and a lack of awareness of the dangers fuelled its popularity. Like elsewhere in the world, Ethiopia used DDT to manage malaria and other diseases. It took the initiative to stop manufacturing the chemical eight years ago but still holds unused reserves.

DDT is a Persistent Organic Pollutant (POP) – a group of chemicals known for their acute and chronic toxicity, a long life in the environment and a tendency to bioaccumulate in the food chain. POPs are also known to cause some cancers, birth defects, and immune, reproductive and nervous system damage.

Global treaties like the 1992 Basel Convention and the 2004 Stockholm Convention prohibit and control POPs. These treaties underpin UN Environment’s work, in partnership with the Global Environment Facility, to implement projects globally that seek to build data on hazardous chemical use and strengthen partner countries’ policies and capacities in dealing with POPs.

The African ChemObs project is one such initiative. Of the nine regional countries involved, Ethiopia is the only nation with a POPs clean-up component. The greater part of the project is the establishment of nine health-environment “observatories” where data will be shared between ministries and analysed to provide country-specific environmental, social and economic arguments on the costs and benefits of immediate action on chemicals.

UN Environment programme manager Eloise Touni says the project is about more than just a toxic chemicals clean-up.

“As well as removing a huge POPs stockpile, the project should bring the issue of chemical pollution up the political agenda in Ethiopia and Africa, and hopefully stimulate the investment and stronger regulation that is needed to prevent the illness and contamination that toxic chemicals cause today,” she says.

The costs of inaction

Ethiopia’s 1,400 metric tons of DDT will be removed in about 70 shipping containers. No disposal facility on the African continent meets the environmental standards needed under the Stockholm Convention to destroy POPs molecules, so it will likely be shipped to an incinerator in Western Europe. Doing that safely doesn’t come cheap but Ethiopia’s existing expertise in the area means the $5-million price tag is cheaper than normal.

And if that still sounds like a lot of money to find, collect and destroy old pesticide stores, then UN Environment’s 2013 Costs of Inaction on the Sound Management of Chemicals report finds the alternative is worse. The report reveals that the costs of injury including lost workdays, medical treatment and hospitalization from pesticide poisonings in sub-Saharan Africa alone amounted to $4.4 billion in 2005. The figure is even considered an underestimation.

It’s a point not lost on Ethiopian State Minister Kare Chawicha Debessa from the Ministry of Environment, Forest and Climate Change: “The cost of inaction is much greater than the cost of managing [POPs] efficiently right now. And that’s why the government is doing its level best in collaboration with partners to address this problem,” he says in his office in Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia’s Environment Ministry however is only three years old and struggles to find the capacity it needs to meet its obligations under the multilateral environmental agreements, like the Stockholm Convention, that the country has signed up for. And while praise is often levelled at the Federal Ministry’s efforts, institutional capacity progressively weakens at the regional, zonal and local levels of government.

Of the 1,400 metric tons of DDT in Ethiopia, about 1,000 are divided across two easily accessible regional warehouses. The remaining stock is scattered across 460 small-scale stores around the country. It’s these stores that have State Environment Minister Kare worried.

“I know stockpiles which are stored at woreda [local government] offices, which are leaking into soil, and no one can do anything. So this is very critical really and it’s time to act,” he says.

UN Environment technical consultant Russell Cobban is also worried about the disbursed DDT stocks.

“The challenges are that Ethiopia is a massive country, and the conditions are somewhat uncontrolled,” Cobban says.

“Those [stores] will be out of the way, very difficult in terms of logistics to get there, difficult communications, dangerous in terms of not having many facilities close by to collect 450 tons of stock from. It’s going to be logistically difficult.”

Building expertise, enabling action

Back at the contaminated Adama warehouse, Mr Cobban conducts outside training with a group of Ethiopian technicians in the correct wearing of personal protective clothing and best-practice inventory models using tablets.

One trainee, Teshome Korme Oda, is a senior chemist at Adami Tulu Pesticide Processing SC. His factory was Ethiopia’s sole DDT producer. Production stopped eight years ago but the factory also stores about 500 tons of DDT, a fact that underscores the importance of the skills Mr Teshome is learning.

“This project is teaching us the model, how to inventory, how to safeguard, how to dispose [of] this DDT,” says Mr Teshome.

Standing just outside the closed door of the toxic warehouse, his trainer, Russell Cobban, also can’t stress the importance of the project enough.

“If this [DDT] was left to disintegrate then you could have a very much, much bigger problem spread over a very, very wide area” he says. “And once the cat is out of the bag it’s very difficult to put it back in there.”

Africa

World cannot stand idle as millions in DR Congo ‘suffer in silence’

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Photo: Joseph Mankamba/OCHA-DRC

The dramatic deterioration in the humanitarian situation in the Democratic Republic over the past year has been further complicated by recent floods and health crises, the United Nations migration agency said Wednesday, appealing for urgent funding to ensure continued assistance and protection for millions in need.

“The humanitarian situation in the DRC is at breaking point as is our capacity to respond due to extremely limited funding,” said Jean-Philippe Chauzy, said the head of operations for the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM) in the country.

“The stories that Congolese, who have been forced from their homes, are telling us are bone-chilling. They have been through so much already – torture, rape and murder of their loved ones – we cannot stand idly by as they suffer in silence,” he added.

Speaking exclusively to UN News, Mr. Chauzy said: “If we don’t get that level of funding then, there are people who will die. I have to be clear with this. People will die.”

He said that the severe malnutrition rates in the Kasai have increased by 750 per cent largely because the people in the region have been displaced so often, three planting seasons have been missed.

Across the country, some 4.3 million remain displaced, of them 1.7 were forced from their homes last year. In 2018, over 13 million are feared to be in need of humanitarian assistance throughout the country. Children, young men, women and ethnic minorities are among the hardest hit, and nutrition, food-security and protection greatest needs.

Particularly worrying is that an estimated 4.7 million women and girls could be exposed to gender-based violence in crisis stricken areas.

However, in face of such daunting challenges, IOM’s response appeal is severely underfunded. Since the release of its appeal, only $3.5 million was received in 2017 and only 47 per cent of the overall inter-agency Humanitarian Response Plan (for 2017) was funded.

“Funding levels are at their lowest for many years, with DRC seeming to have ‘fallen off the map’ for many donors, at a time when we are facing vastly increased humanitarian needs,” added Mr. Chauzy, hoping that the same does not continue through 2018.

The UN agency has appealed for $75 million to urgently meet the growing needs of displaced Congolese and the communities hosting them in the eastern and south-central provinces of North and South Kivu, Tanganyika and the Kasai.

Its interventions in 2018 will focus on camp coordination management; displacement tracking; shelter and non-food items (NFIs); water, sanitation and hygiene; health; and protection.

According to IOM, a revised inter-agency Humanitarian Response Plan is to be released Thursday, 18 January.

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Africa

Second Sudanese National Conference on Inclusive Education

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©UNESCO: Second Sudanese National Conference on Inclusive Education: Stage. Ministry of Social Welfare, Khartoum, Sudan, 17/12/2017

On 17 December 2017, the UNESCO Khartoum Office in collaboration with the Ministry of Education (MoE), Ministry of Social Welfare, the National Council for People with Disability (NCPD), National Commission for Education, Science and Culture, and OVCI (International NGO with Italian origin) organized the Second National Conference on Inclusive Education, which took place in Khartoum, Main Hall of the Ministry of Social Welfare. The first National Conference on Inclusive Education took place in June 2016.

More than 60 professionals working with disabled Sudanese students from different government bodies (including 18 Heads of the Special Needs Departments in MoEs from all the states of Sudan), academics and NGOs discussed different actual issues of their work.

The opening ceremony was welcomed by Dr. Awadia Alnigoumi, the director of the Special Needs Department in MoE, Dr. Ibtisam the director of the Quality Assurance Department in MoE, Dr. Rashid Eltigani, the general director of the National Council for People with Disabilities in Khartoum state, Dr. Layla Abdelazim Karrar, the head of the Special Needs Department in the Faculty of Education of the University of Khartoum, Dr. Eman Abdallal, National Center for Curriculum and Education Research, Mr. Nadir Babiker, the education officer of the NCPD, Mr. Bader Eldin Ahmed Hassan, the Secretary General of the National Council for People with Disability, and Ms. Asya Abdalla, the Minister of Education.

In the first session of the conference, Her Excellency the Minister of Education announced the decision of the president of Sudan to dedicate 2018 as the year for People with Disability. She thanked UNESCO for the efforts made in the inclusive education sector and the significant support the Ministry received; she requested to see more work in 2018. Her Excellency promised to finalize the establishment of the remaining Special Needs Departments in the remaining states. Mrs. Asya Abdalla encouraged the participants to have active discussions and continue their support and collaborations with partners, to create technical job opportunities and support the inclusive education directorate.

Dr. Aiman Badri, the education officer in UNESCO, convoyed the greetings of UNESCO Representative to Sudan, Dr. Pavel Kroupkine, and assured the full support of UNESCO to the efforts of the federal Ministry of Education to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDG4 on quality education. He enumerated the several books and training programs developed in 2016-17 for integrating disable children to usual classes of basic schools – achieved with the Special Needs Department in MoE. Dr. Aiman confirmed that the 2018-19 plan of the UNESCO Khartoum office includes further development of inclusive education in Sudan, and that UNESCO Khartoum together with UNICEF and WHO work on joint plans and projects to support MoE, focusing on designing the resource room for disabled students, its technical materials and the technical teacher training.

The second session headed by Dr. Aiman Badri, included a presentations about new special needs degree program and curricula (Dr. Layla Karrar from University of Khartoum), and about new developments in the legislations and laws relevant to people with disabilities (NCPD).

Dr. Bader Eldin Ahmed Hassan, the director of the National Council for People with Disabilities, headed the third session – with presentations about ground experience of inclusion of children with disability in ordinary school in frameworks of a project funded by EU (Mrs. Silvia Bonanomi, the director of OVCI Sudan), and about results of efforts of the Special Needs Department in MoE (Dr. Awadia Alngoumi).

At the end of the conference, the participants discussed and agreed on recommendations for focusing their work in 2018-19. The recommendations aimed to

The certification in the technical and vocational education and its compliance with the general education system for disabled students

  • Completing the resource rooms’ technical guide and assistant technical teacher training tools.
  • Eliminating differences of service quality – between the Khartoum state and the other of Sudan
  • Strengthening approaches / methods / tools of inclusive education available in Sudan

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Boko Haram attacks, human trafficking threaten progress in West Africa and Sahel

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The security situation in West Africa and the Sahel remains of grave concern, the United Nations envoy for the region said Thursday, warning that while there had been progress on the political front over the past year, there had also been a worrying upsurge in Boko Haram attacks.

“Following a notable decline in Boko Haram attacks in the first half of the year, there has been an uptick in the number of incidents since September last year, with a peak of 143 civilian casualties alone in November 2017,” said Mohamed Ibn Chambas, Special Representative and Head of the UN Office for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS).

In his repotrted a fivefold increase in the use of children as suicide bombers by Boko Haram, reaching some 135 cases in 2017.

Updating the Council on Mali, he said that terrorists launched a complex attack on the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission’s (MINUSMA) positions in Kidal, which resulted in one peacekeeper’s death, while three Malian soldiers were killed by a landmine and another by terrorists in Niono. Additionally, two separate attacks on security posts were registered in Burkina Faso near the Malian border.

“The attacks in Mali as well as within the Mali-Niger-Burkina Faso tri-border area are mainly attributed to A1-Qaida affiliated groups and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara,” he stated.

Turning to Niger, he noted that because of an increasing number of security incidents, the government has dedicated 17 per cent of 2018 public expenditure to the security sector – compared to 15 per cent last year.

“This has, however, triggered demonstrations in Niger’s capital given the expected detrimental effects on the delivery of social services,” he asserted.

The UN envoy pointed out that while 700 Boko Haram abductees have recently escaped, the group continues to kidnap people and that, overall, more than two million displaced persons “desperately” await an end to the Lake Chad Basin crisis.

Commending the efforts of the Multinational Joint Task Force operating in the region, he stressed that the comprehensive response of the region to address the Boko Haram threat “must be supported by the international community.”

He explained that in the Sahel, the Group of Five (G5) – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – had made significant progress in operationalizing its Joint Force, including by establishing its military command structure and Force headquarters in Sevarÿ and conducting its first military operation with French troops in late October.

Additionally, in line with Security Council resolution 2391 (2017), consultations among the UN, European Union (EU) and G5 are ongoing regarding the conclusion of a technical agreement on supporting the Joint Force through MINUSMA.

“The past six months have seen substantive progress in the efforts to reinvigorate UNISS,” he said, noting that a support plan would be shared with national, regional and international partners to harmonize approaches and canvass for effective support to the Sahel “in line with national and regional priorities, the UN Agenda 2030 and the AU Agenda 2063.”

Meanwhile, he noted that migration has become one of the most lucrative activities for criminal networks across West Africa and the Sahel.

“Stemming human trafficking must continue to be a top priority in 2018 as recently underscored by Secretary-General Guterres,” he affirmed.

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