Chemicals are important determinants for sustainable development, sound environmental health and quality of life. While the use of chemicals in all human activities (e.g. agriculture, health, mining, construction, energy production, manufacture and domestic) contributes to improving the quality of life, it also raises concerns about its harmful effects on workers, consumers, the environment and society at large through exposure. Furthermore, accidental releases from the distribution, consumption and disposal of chemicals may permanently damage soil, water and air.
Many African countries have in recent years intensified their industrial and agricultural production. This has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in use of chemical inputs. Today in Africa, some industrial chemicals such as Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs), highly hazardous pesticides, arsenic, cadmium, lead and mercury, which are heavily controlled or withdrawn in most developed countries, continue to be used, with major environmental and health consequences. A range of toxic wastes and effluents are also emitted directly into the soil, air and water from agricultural and industrial processes, often at levels well in excess of the carrying capacities of ecosystems as well as beyond tolerable levels for humans. This pollution is exacerbated in many African countries by recent booms in the extractive industries, including oil and gas.
The policy, legislative and institutional framework for environmentally sound management of chemicals in most African countries is either currently under development or is relatively new and weak. This situation calls for the strengthening of systems to help decrease exposure to the negative effects of chemical use. Addressing the environmental and health hazards associated with chemicals is therefore becoming more critical yet challenging at the same time in light of the limited understanding of the full risks associated with chemicals, inadequate or inefficient policies and laws, inadequate institutional capacities and the shortage of resources.
In 2015 the Fourth International Conference on Chemical Management adopted the Overall Orientation and Guidance Document for the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management outlining the priorities to ensure sound chemicals management by 2020. The document puts strong emphasis on governance issues including strengthening of institutions, law and policy, and the establishment of appropriate national legal and institutional frameworks for the sound management of chemicals. As a contribution towards the achievement of these priorities, ECI has designed the Chemicals Governance Programme to support the active engagement of citizens and civil society organizations with policy makers and regulatory agencies in building good governance systems for sound chemicals management in Africa.
ECI’s Chemicals Governance Program focuses on the following three work streams:
- Awareness raising and advocacy activities for environmentally sound management of chemicals.
- Capacity building for policy makers, regulatory agencies, civil society, the public and other stakeholders on environmentally sound management of chemicals.
- Technical and legal assistance to policy makers, regulatory agencies, civil society and other stakeholders on effective strategies and measures for environmentally sound management of chemicals.