Coordinated action by governments and industry is urgently needed to reduce the growing risks to human health and the environment posed by the unsustainable management of chemicals worldwide, according to a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
In its latest Global Chemicals Outlook, that was released on 5 September UNEP asks for urgent action to reduce the increasing health and environmental hazards from chemicals. The report cites use and disposal of chemical products from developed countries to emerging and developing economies, where safeguards and regulations are often weaker as one of the greatest drawback to the fight against the menace.
Besides highlighting the major economic burden caused by chemical hazards, particularly in developing countries, the UNEP’s Global Chemicals Outlook also reveals that the estimated costs of poisonings from pesticides in sub-Saharan Africa now exceeds the total annual overseas development aid given to the region for basic health services, excluding HIV/AIDS. In its report UNEP estimates that the accumulated cost of illness and injury linked to pesticides in small scale farming in sub-Saharan Africa could reach USD 90 billion between 2005 and 2020.
Increasingly however, communities worldwide are dependent on chemical products, from fertilisers and petrochemicals to electronics and plastics, for economic development and improving livelihoods. For instance, products of the chemicals industry – such as dyes, detergents and adhesives among others – are rapidly replacing traditional plant, animal or ceramic-based products in these countries. According to the UNEP report, global chemical sales are set to increase by around 3 percent a year until 2050. Africa and the Middle East are set to register an average 40 percent increase in chemical production between 2012 and 2020, with Latin America expected to see a 33 percent rise.
Thus the report calls on alternative ways to reduce these financial and health burdens, while improving livelihoods, supporting ecosystems, reducing pollution and developing green technology. In recent years, international conventions, governments and corporations have taken significant steps in developing national and international capacities for managing chemicals safely and soundly. But the Global Chemicals Outlook states that the pace of progress has been slow, and that results are too often insufficient.