UN Special Rapporteur Urges Prompt Action on Hazardous Wastes
By Ishmael Sallieu Koroma
The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights, hazardous substances and wastes, Baskut Tuncak,has on Friday, 25th August, 2017,told pressmen that he observed severe impact on Human Rights from hazardous wastes and emphasised the need for an increased monitoring of water ,air and chemical pollution in Sierra Leone.
“In Sierra Leone, I observed severe impacts on human rights from hazardous substances and wastes .For example ,I witnessed communities in and around the Freetown’s largest waste dump -including Children and pregnant women-breathing the dark haze of air pollution, drinking ,bathing and cleaning in toxic water ,and eating meat contaminated by waste,” Mr Tuncak stated .
The UN diplomat was addressing the media in the conference room of the United Nations Development Programme , to mark the end of his official visit to Sierra Leone.
He was in the country from 14-25th August, 2017, on the invitation of President Ernest Bai Koroma, to monitor and asses steps taken by government to protect human rights through the effective management of harzadous substances and wastes.
Addressing the press, the UN diplomat noted that: “I wish to emphasise at the outset that these are only preliminary observations .A full report of the mission, which will contain a more comprehensive analysis of the situation and recommendations from a human rights perspective, will be prepared and presented to the Human Rights Council in September 2018.
The Special Rapporteur said during the course of his visit for the last two weeks, he met with representatives of the central Government, the Human Rights Commission, the police, businesses, civil society organisations, local administrators, traditional leaders, and communities in both urban and rural settings.
He added that he undertook field trips to the cities of Bo,Makeni ,the districts of Pujehun,Kono and Bombali ,the Koidu Holdings’(Octea)mining operations and Socfin’s plantation .
He said the magnitude of the impacts of hazardous substances and waste on human rights in Sierra Leone remains largely unknown.
“Individuals lack access to information regarding contamination levels of air, water and food, as well as adverse impacts on human health, such as cancers, respiratory diseases birth defects, and reduced cognition among others,” he said.
He reiterated that more is needed to be done to realise the right to information, raise awareness among the public and ensure meaningful consultation and participation of communities in environmental decision -making in Sierra Leone.
He noted that his serious concerns is the general inability of affected individuals and communities to access justice to defend their rights and seek redress, which he says is a Serious human rights problem in the country, adding that there is also a serious concern relating to the lack of reliable data on emissions to air ,water and soil of pollutants .
“It is essential that the Government undertake robust monitoring of water and food contamination, air pollution, labour conditions and key health indicators to map priority areas for inventions,” he stressed.
He recalled that government has launched an Agenda for prosperity with the objectives of elevating Sierra Leone to middle -income country, adding that the agenda seeks to include the protection of human health and the environment in an effort to reduce poverty and improve the living conditions of Sierra Leoneans.
“The success of the Agenda for Prosperity however, will depend on the government’s commitment to implement it by putting in place the appropriate regulatory standards, coordination mechanisms and allocating the necessary financial resources .Efforts to improve access to health care, water and sanitation, education and gainful employment -in no uncertain terms -be undercut by insufficient attention to pollution prevention and toxic reduction,” he said.
He recommended that government should undertake activities to raise awareness on the adverse impact on human rights resulting from hazardous substances among the public and to foster participation in decision making by all relevant actors ,in a spirit of dialogue and cooperation, adding that government should acknowledge the important role of civil society as a stakeholder in promoting sustainable development ,particularly in the context of natural resources exploitation ,and take positive measures to ensure that an enabling environment exists for civil society.