Malawi is “making strides in developing regulations” on persistent organic pollutants (POPs), according to a government assessment carried out for the UN’s treaty aimed at eliminating the toxic and long-lasting chemicals worldwide.
The southern African country last week published an updated national plan for implementing the UN’s Stockholm Convention on POPs. Since its first plan in 2005, according to the country’s energy and mining secretary Patrick Matanda, the country has:
- developed regulations on chemicals and toxic substances;
- published a national waste strategy;
- developed a strategy for compliance and monitoring; and
- recruited more staff to cover the sustainable management of POPs, pesticides and other hazardous chemicals.
The 2019 plan assessed the country’s regulatory situation on POPs and found that Malawi has several sectoral legislations that cover “specific areas of chemicals management in the country.” These include acts to control and monitor POPs in sectors including pollution and waste control, pesticides, occupational health and safety, and fisheries.
But challenges remain. The plan highlighted that a lack of knowledge by customs officers leads to a failure to stop the import of products containing POPs and that there is weak enforcement of existing legislation.
Another major problem is the issue of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), a class of POP that is widely present in old power generation equipment. Manufacturing of PCBs was banned in 1979, but the assessment found that they are present in much of the equipment owned by its national power supply company, which was largely installed before that date.
There is no legislation specifically focused on PBC management in Malawi, but its power supply company uses guidelines published by other African institutes to manage PCBs.
Along with 11 other southern African countries, Malawi is implementing a $34m project funded by the Global Environment Facility – which assists in the protection of the global environment and promotes environmental sustainable development – to eliminate use of PCB-containing equipment in the region. It hopes to have achieved this phase-out by 2025, the plan says.
However, even when use of the equipment has stopped, destroying PCB-containing equipment without releasing them into the environment requires advanced technology not present in many developing countries. This often creates stockpiles of obsolete equipment, which it is sometimes then stolen and re-sold. This issue has been highlighted in North African countries as well.
Malawi’s updated plan also includes inventories for the substances that have been classified as POPs under the Stockholm Convention since 2009, including PFOS.
It highlights e-waste as a growing problem, estimating that in the period 2018-2022 between 8.69 and 11.66 million devices, primarily mobile phones, will become e-waste in Malawi and need to be disposed of.
Additionally, POPs pesticides are a significant problem in the country, as approximately 80% of Malawi’s 19 million people live in the rural areas and carry out subsistence farming. The assessment found low public awareness of what pesticides are banned or approved, and of the effects of using obsolete POPs pesticides.
Original reporting by Chemical Watch