Côte d’Ivoire: UN sends team to help coordinate response to deadly toxic waste crisis

11 September 2006 – The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) today dispatched a three-member team to Côte d’Ivoire to help the West African country’s Government respond to the contamination crisis following last month’s dumping of toxic waste around the city of Abidjan.

A UN Disaster Assessment and Coordination (UNDAC) team will offer particular help in technical coordination and information management on health and security issues, OCHA said.

The UN World Health Organization (WHO) and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) have also contributed medicines worth almost $50,000 to the Ivorian Ministry of Public Health.

Three people are reported killed and some 3,000 others have sought medical help, complaining of intestinal and respiratory problems, as well as vomiting, nausea and nose bleeds, after inhaling fumes from hazardous substances dumped at a series of sites around Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s biggest city and commercial capital.

Last week OCHA quoted sources saying the as yet unidentified substances were dumped from a vessel, Probo Koala, on 19 August, and possibly exported illegally from Europe.

OCHA said today that preliminary observations indicate that most of the waste sites, which include Abidjan’s lagoon and its sewage system, are not adequately secured or marked with appropriate signage to warn residents about the dangers.

The UN Operation in Côte d’Ivoire, known by its acronym UNOCI, has helped establish an inter-agency UN taskforce to coordinate the world body’s response and run a public awareness campaign.

Following a formal request from the Ivorian Government, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) is conducting an investigation through the Secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal, which it administers.

The Secretariat is probing whether the Basel Convention’s trust fund can be used to help pay for the clean-up operation, which could cost more than $13 million. It is also studying where legal responsibility for the crisis may lie.

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