ZAMBIA is a party to a number of international chemical, safety and other related conventions.
The Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions are among the several agreements Zambia has signed. The three altogether cover elements of “cradle-to-grave” management as they aimed at removing hazardous and chemical wastes.
By being a signatory to the Basel, Rotterdam and Stockholm conventions, Government has demonstrated its desire to comply with standards and norms of being a hazardous and waste chemicals-free nation.
Conventions give birth to institutions which help the United Nations in monitoring the adherence to the agreements.
In Africa, the need for the co-ordinated implementation of chemical multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) is critical for providing the basis and crucial elements for ‘life cycle management’ of toxic chemicals.
Zambia is a signatory to the African Institute statutes, which is a regional centre for Anglophone Africa.
The synergy of the chemical MEAs provides the framework for environmentally sound chemical management.
Institutions born out of conventions help build effective international and regional frameworks to minimise and prevent the impacts of toxic chemicals and hazardous waste and give individual countries and the global community a way to address the ever increasing pollution of humans and the environment.
The Africa Institute, based in Pretoria, South Africa, is one such institution which brings the region to tackle hazardous and waste chemicals agreements issues together and collectively.
Koebu Khalema, the programme manager at the Africa Institute, says this is so because no single country can manage on its own.
African Institute exists to lobby for funding for regional projects, co-ordinate and monitor projects, offer technical assistance (internal and external) as well as information dissemination and sharing.
Therefore, every country must undertake an exercise of mapping the Millennium Development Goals to the Sustainable Development Goals in order to pick up on progress and gaps for environmentally sound management of hazardous and other wastes.
In view of this, countries must mount and make effective co-ordination mechanisms (inter-ministerial/inter-stakeholder co-ordination).
National priorities must be determined and clear responsibilities given to various stakeholders, including transfer procedures.
There should be rigorous education, and awareness-raising campaigns and programmes should be on-going.
Dr Khalema said laws should be developed, and others amended, to increase penalties for discouragement or flouting, but also to iron out conflicts and overlaps.
Dr Khalema said countries must place chemicals management as a priority by identifying synergies, developing concept notes and strengthening coordination mechanisms through identifying the key stakeholders to form committees and identifying a lead institution and lead person as well as identifying institutions and assign roles.
There should also be formalising and recognising the co-ordination mechanism, with the lead institution providing progress reports to the regional bodies.
It should also include developing monitoring tools (M&E), awareness raising, while awareness raising should be done according to the target groups (policy- makers, consumers, institutions, etc).
Lead institutions should develop and package awareness materials according to target groups as well as strengthen chemicals management in member countries, share information and experiences in enforcement of chemicals management laws and regulations.
Porous borders, poor legislation, poor co-ordination and collaboration and lack of requisite equipment are among challenges faced by countries in enforcing sound management of hazardous and other wastes.
Other challenges are lack of requisite skills and knowledge among recruited staff, lack of awareness of chemicals management issues among senior staff and lack of database or register of chemicals.
Despite Zambia being a signatory to various international agreements, there has been lapses in terms of being up to date with subscriptions.
For instance, Zambia currently owes the African Institute about US$140,000, which it has neglected to honour since 2009.
This is despite reaping benefits from the regional organisation.
Yet, countries such as Botswana, Lesotho, and Namibia have been paying.
The consequences are that the country risks missing out on employment of its nationals because of being in bad standing.
This is because there are a number of projects the African Institute is undertaking, including the Miamata initial assessment project, a two-year project in which Zambia is involved.
The US$1 million Miamata project addresses issues such as consumer products like skin-lightening creams and soaps, mercury-containing products like thermometers and energy-saving bulbs, dental Amalgams and coal combustion in industries.
The Zambia Environmental Management Agency should put air emission limits to preserve the environment by amending legislation to restrict the importation of products embedded with mercury.
Zambia has benefitted from the KELMI project, which trained journalists, environmental officers, customs officers and judiciary.
There is also a US$500,000 project in which a baseline study to ascertain the use of mercury in small-scale gold mining in the country is being conducted. This project will run up to 2018.
Zambia is also participating in another project, the chemical observatory systems, which quantifies the health cost of consequences of environmental inaction to health. It started in 2017 and ends 2022.
Zambia has been a beacon in terms of getting these projects from donors and should therefore pay what is due.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs should as a matter of urgency take stock of all international conventions Zambia has signed and its attendant financial obligations.
The author is Zambia Daily Mail editorials editor.