Cote d'Ivoire: UN Warns Toxic Waste Still a Threat

Abidjan — Two years after an illegal toxic dumping operation in the Ivorian capital Abidjan created a widespread medical emergency and political scandal, UN contamination expert Okechukwu Ibeanu warns the clean-up effort has stalled.

"The sites have still not been decontaminated and continue to pose a threat to the health of thousands of people," Ibeanu, the UN Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the illicit movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes, said in Abidjan earlier in August, after completing a one-week assessment mission.

International waste removal experts in protective suits and masks swarmed across Abidjan in September 2006 after it emerged toxic waste had been dumped in several areas of the city.

The chemical waste arrived in Abidjan, a port city, in August 2006 on a ship chartered by the Netherlands-based commodities company Trafigura Beheer and apparently dumped in residential neighbourhoods by a local contractor. The substance contained the potentially lethal hydrogen sulfide, according to a UN report.

Some 16 deaths were attributed to the waste which was found at seven sites including in densely populated slum areas, and Ivorian emergency medical service officials said more than 100,000 people went to hospitals and clinics for evaluation.

Human rights expert Ibeanu said many of those affected by the waste have received little or no assistance since the 2006 media-storm over the dumping died down, despite a US$198 million indemnity fund being provided by the company behind the Dutch boat.

"We met many of the victims who still show symptoms of their exposure to the waste. They still have headaches and sores... among the victims there are particularly vulnerable people - those who have little money to feed themselves, let alone to get treatment."

Some of the victims have had no choice but to return to their homes and businesses alongside the deadly waste.

Ibeanu said the health ministry should carry out a full survey of the affected population and provide urgent medical assistance to those who need it, including setting up dedicated units in hospitals to treat victims. "The government needs to do more for its people," he said later in a statement.

The expert also suggested that the international community and the government earmark money specifically for constructing safe waste disposal sites, to ensure the disaster will not be repeated.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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