Toxic waste sites in Côte d'Ivoire still not cleaned up, UN rights expert says

Probo Koala

8 August 2008 – The sites around Côte d'Ivoire's biggest city where hundreds of tons of toxic waste were illegally dumped two years ago have still not been decontaminated and continue to threaten the health of residents, a United Nations human rights expert warned today.

Okechukwu Ibeanu, the Special Rapporteur on the adverse effects of the illicit movement and dumping of toxic and dangerous products and wastes, said many residents of Abidjan complain of headaches, skin lesions, digestive difficulties and nose, throat and lung problems.

In a statement issued after a week-long visit to the West African country, Mr. Ibeanu said that decontaminating the seven sites around Abidjan where the waste was dumped must be a priority.

“The people of Abidjan need urgent assistance,” he said. “After two years, they continue to live in precarious conditions and their right to a healthy and safe environment continues to be violated.”

At least 16 people were killed and tens of thousands of others were sickened or affected in August 2006 when hundreds of tons of toxic waste were dumped after the Probo Koala ship, which began its journey in the Netherlands, unloaded in Abidjan, according to the Special Rapporteur.

Mr. Ibeanu said he was particularly concerned about the situation of women, many of whom have complained of an increase in premature births, early menopause and miscarriages.

Ivorian authorities told the Special Rapporteur this week that they do not have the technical capacity to quickly decontaminate the sites, and he urged the international community to provide immediate technical assistance.

Mr. Ibeanu also said much more needs to be done to compensate the victims, as many have reported that they have not been able to register for funds or they have not received adequate amounts. Others have not received any money at all.

“Many victims, apart from feeling the direct threat to their health, have also had to leave their homes and businesses,” he said. “Some have returned to their homes and businesses and continue to live and work next to these toxic waste dumps. They do not have the means to relocate or rebuild their businesses elsewhere. The Government needs to do more for its people.”

He added that health ministry officials should carry out a survey of the affected population and provide urgent medical assistance to those who need it, including by setting up intensive care units in hospitals to treat victims.

As part of his investigations, Mr. Ibeanu plans to travel to the Netherlands later this year to speak with Trafigura, the company concerned with the Probo Koala.

He stressed that the Ivorian Government should intensify its pursuit of criminal proceedings against both individuals and corporations implicated in the dumping.

“This is to send a signal to other transnational corporations and individuals that such crimes will not go unpunished and that Africa is not a cheap dumping ground. The victims must get the justice they deserve.”

Special Rapporteurs such as Mr. Ibeanu serve in an independent and unpaid capacity and report to the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council.

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