African Institute. What bells do these words ring? Hardly any would be a fair answer.
Yet this Pretoria-based agency, which was established only as recently as a short three years ago, is expected to play a profoundly decisive role in Africa. This is especially as relates to the safe disposal and other ways of handling hazardous waste.
Many people seldom stop to consider the harm that the chemicals they routinely come into contact with can do not only to people but also fauna and flora and the environment generally.
Few people even know that reckless disposal of such popular items as refrigerators and deep-freezers that have fallen into disuse has immense potential to wreak havoc on the environment.
It’s often only after careless handling of items such as empty cans once filled with mosquito sprays makes the containers turn into mini-missiles and inflict life-threatening injuries on people, that it dawns on households and communities that indeed there is danger in not taking precautions.
Sporadic cases have also been reported from various parts of Tanzania over the years of innocent children coming across long-discarded grenades and, taking the “strange” items for toys, ending up being blown up after the “dolls” explode.
Now, this is to talk of relatively minor incidents, although sometimes it means permanent disability or even death. But we know of numerous cases of ignorance or carelessness leading to disasters of really massive proportions.
For instance, just imagine the grave consequences of highly contaminated industrial effluent being directed into a lake, river or dam on which hundreds or even thousands of people and their livestock depend for their drinking water.
There are also many well-documented cases of ships carrying toxic waste moving from country to country in search of a place where to deposit the poisonous cargo, and often being repeatedly turned away owing to awareness by both governments and the larger public of the serious danger any generosity would result in.
Africa Initiative’s executive director, who has just been to Tanzania, has elaborated on the agency’s mission and mandate alongside underscoring the need for port and customs officials being extra vigilant in detecting hazardous waste and ensuring that they are safety managed.
In saying this, we may be saying little that is really news to many Tanzanians, what with the fact we have had in place the likes of National Environment Management Council and Tanzania Atomic Energy Commission for quite some time now.
Yet, we remember the times when factories censured by the council for clearly polluting the environment have bitterly protested and even gone to the extent of laughing off the council’s directives.
Tanzania is one of only eight countries that have ratified the African Institute protocols, the others being Botswana, Lesotho, Mauritius, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa and Zambia.
Thus, unless we want be among those paying lip service to the agreements we have decided to implement for our own good, we must help the African Institute to help us in lead safer lives by handling toxic chemicals and other waste more safely.