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Danish Support to Toxic Waste Treatment in Southern Africa, Greenpeace and Local Groups Fear Increased Illegal Waste Trade

Development Today: Nordic Outlook on Development Assistance, Business and the Environment -
October 26, 1998


-- The Danish official aid agency (Danida) seems to be committed to continue funding the treatment of hazardous obsolete pesticides in Mozambique in spite of a campaign by environmental organisations and local groups against the support.

-- Plans for a regional solution to hazardous waste treatment in southern Africa are also underway in Danida. These may include transborder operations, which could go counter to on-going efforts to stem the international transport of hazardous waste.

-- Greenpeace claims to have evidence of trafficking with hazardous waste into Mozambique.

Just a few months after the Danish appropriation of DKK 42 million for the collection of pesticide waste and incineration in a cement kiln in Mozambique, the Board of Danish International Development (Danida) and the Danish Parliament's Finance Committee have approved another DKK 15 million to extend the project. (See DT 10/98)

The first appropriation was based on the knowledge available at that time about the amounts of obsolete pesticides stored at 59 identified locations around the country. Since then, the companies engaged to deal with the waste have identified additional stores. The number of locations is now 80, and instead of 540 tonnes there is now knowledge of 715 tonnes. Danida expects even more stores to be found as the collection work proceeds.

If the obsolete pesticides were not collected they would present a major health risk for the population in the vicinity. Some of the packing is already leaking, resulting in contamination, according to Danida.

As part of the project's extension, the contracts with the Danish companies - Monberg & Thorsen and COWI - will be extended by 13 months. Other companies involved in the project are the South African company Waste Tech, the Mozambican/South African International Sales & Services, the Mozambican Abrantina, and the Mozambican cement factory Cementos de Mozambique. The Danish EL.Smidth & Co. is supplying the incineration technology.

In addition, COWI has been engaged by Danida to draw up terms of reference for the preparation of a permanent plan to deal with all kinds of hazardous waste in Mozambique. Further action on this, however, awaits a regional plan for southern Africa, currently being prepared by a team headed by Jan from the British consultancy Environmental Planning and Technology.

Ingwersen has been on a factfinding mission in Mozambique, South Africa, Lesotho and Zimbabwe to determine types and amounts of hazardous waste produced, and legislation and levels of treatment technology. The team will make suggestions to Danida for a project to deal with the issue at the regional level.

One regional solution to deal with the waste is logical from an economic point of view as each country would then not need to build up its own capacity. However, such an approach conflicts with the Basel Convention that bans the movement of waste from industrialised to developing countries and the Bamako Convention banning the movement of hazardous waste among African countries. A single treatment solution for the region could therefore depend on exceptions from these conventions.

If at the end of the day, the regional approach is taken, it will almost certainly add petrol to the fire that Greenpeace has started in order to halt the project in Mozambique. Greenpeace has entered into an alliance with three other well-established organizations and one new movement in Mozambique campaigning against the Danish-financed project. One of the organisations in the coalition is the Basel Action Network (BAN), which works to ensure that the Basel Convention and its Decisions II/12 and HI/I banning the export of hazardous wastes from OECD to non-OECD countries will not be weakened, but rather ratified and implemented at the earliest possible date.

Another coalition partner is the South Africa-based Environmental Justice Network Forum (EJNF).

Bobby Peek from this organisation says to Development Today: "There is a danger that the establishment of Danish incineration technology in Mozambique will encourage illegal imports of toxic waste to Mozambique and pose a serious threat to its people and environment."

In an earlier statement, BAN characterised the Danish-financed technology at the cement factory in Mozambique as a magnet that would attract the inflow of hazardous waste from abroad, including OECD countries.

Danida is satisfied with the Mozambican government's assurances that it will not allow such imports. The contract states explicitly that the Danish equipment will be dismantled and returned to Denmark if such trafficking does occur. But this does not satisfy Greenpeace.

The Organisation claims to have evidence showing that the Minister of the Environment in Mozambique, Bernardo P. Ferraz, has authorised a company in Mozambique to import for treatment and disposal "all kinds of residues (domestic, hospital or industrial)". It also claims to have evidence showing that the company runs a dump site outside Maputo for hazardous waste, and that it offers to bring such waste from OECD countries to Mozambique.

Development Today has tried in vain to get a comment from the Ministry of the Environment in Mozambique. In Danida, the position seems to be that what has so far been provided as evidence from Greenpeace does not give sufficient reason to doubt the seriousness of the Mozambican government's assurances.

Danish Development Minister Poul Nielson says that the letters produced by Greenpeace are old, while Danida's arrangements with the Mozambican government and with the cement factory are more recent.

Nevertheless, in a letter to Jim Puckett of BAN, Nielson expresses support for the organisation's two campaigns - to ban the international trade in hazardous waste and to ban the production and release of so-called persistent organic pollutants (POPs). However, the minister adds: "I find it disturbing that you target a much needed pesticide disposal project in your campaign. The best becomes the enemy of the good."

It remains to be seen whether the Danish government will risk Danida's reputation in a conflict with an international campaign. One source in Danida says that it may not only put off Danish aid, but also other aid organisations. Nothing at all might then be done about the hazardous waste.

Nielson makes it clear that he will not bow to the pressure and is prepared for a fight.

Meanwhile, local protests against incineration of the pesticides in a cement kiln are growing. Mozambican authorities have agreed to invite people in the vicinity of the cement factory and NGOs to debate the risks and possible other solutions. This has not delayed the project as it has already been postponed due to problems with the timely shipment and customs clearance of the Danish equipment.

The newly-established protest organisation in Mozambique, Livaningo, has raised questions about the electrical filters in the chimneys of the cement factory, and reports say that pollutants may hit a nearby foodprocessing plant.

Greenpeace is collaborating with Livaningo. "We are their data base," as Jacob Hartmann of Greenpeace Denmark puts it.

He draws attention to an article in Mocambiente, published by the environment protection authority in Mozambique, which describes problems related to running the electrical filters at the cement factory where the toxic waste is to be incinerated.

At times, when the water and electricity supply is unstable, dust is blown out of the kiln without going through the filters. This is in order to protect the filters.

Hartmann is worried that such blow-outs could happen while incineration of toxic waste is taking place. Already, he says, there have been complaints from the nearby food processing plant about pollution from the cement factory. This would become more serious if the dust contained toxic substances.

According to Danida, when incineration begins, all necessary precautions will be taken to ensure that blow-outs or insufficient running of electrical filters will not take place while there is toxic waste in the kiln.

DTs source says that there are considerations about offering financing of a generator and additional water reservoir capacity, if these are needed. This would help to stabilise the water and electricity supply.


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