A committee has been set up by the Federal Public Procurement & Property Administration Agency to conduct a study on how to effectively dispose of expired and toxic chemicals stockpiled at government institutions, including universities.

Not much is known about how much chemical waste is accrued in Ethiopia.

The steering committee has three sub-committees tasked to address this issue and conduct a study on how best to properly discard laboratory chemicals, electronic waste and other toxic materials. Composed of representatives from the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Agency, the ministries of Agriculture and Health, researchers from universities, and private sector representatives, as well as officials from the Federal Public Procurement & Property Administration Agency, it is expected to table a plan of action in a month to the Ministry of Finance.

Upon approval, the committee plans to present the project to international institutions, including the World Bank, to find resources, disclosed Haji Ibsa, director-general of the Agency.

“We want to engage international institutions to use their professional expertise as well as draw from their experiences in similar projects carried out in other countries,” he told Fortune.

A documentary film was aired by the Agency at a meeting held last week that shows vehicles, machinery, electronics and chemicals that require proper disposal at various government institutions. The Agency detailed that expired chemicals and the containers of certain chemicals pose a risk to public health as their disposal has to be done in a way that does not contaminate soil, water or the general environment.

The majority of chemical waste from public offices stems from universities, where they are used in laboratories. Expired agricultural inputs and chemicals from public health institutions make up a fair share of the stockpile.

For years, chemical waste was not being disposed of properly, as it could not be done in the country, and sending it abroad was costly. A relatively small volume of toxic waste was sent abroad to countries with the facilities to safely get rid of the chemicals.

Waste was being released into the environment, according to Setegn Gelan, public relations & communications director at the Agency. Some were released into lakes and rivers, and some were buried and sealed. None of the methods, however, are deemed viable alternatives that ensure public health.

It is hoped that the study to be conducted by the committee will propose solutions to these problems by identifying proper disposal mechanisms in collaboration with the private sector, Setegn told Fortune.

The waste disposal sphere is also managed in a legal vacuum; organisations' responsibilities and the methodology to be used remain unclear. A law issued in 2009 mandates the Procurement & Property Administration Agency to lead the disposal of materials from public organisations. An amendment of this proclamation, determining the level of disposal handled by public offices themselves, has been tabled to the Council of Ministers.

Goods with an estimated value between 1,000 Br and 100,000 Br can be disposed of by the public offices themselves. In the amended bill, the minimum threshold has increased to 5,000 Br.

This is to allow for the timely disposal of waste, according to Haji. He disclosed the Agency’s plans to kick off a campaign to register disposable properties in all public offices and universities next month. The registration will incorporate various properties such as vehicles, machinery, computers and accessories, and metals. Covering all 190 federal agencies, public offices are expected to hand over all unused vehicles for sale or scrapping. The Agency estimates it will generate about a billion Birr from the disposal process.

The disposal work should be handled by a private body or through a public-private partnership to allow the government to focus on regulating and inspecting chemical imports, their use, and their storage, experts advise.

Ahmed Mustefa, associate professor of natural & computational science at Addis Abeba University, supports establishing a responsible body that takes care of chemical disposal.

"As a nation, Ethiopia needs readiness, because the consequences can be disastrous," said Ahmed.

PUBLISHED ON Mar 20,2021 [ VOL 21 , NO 1090]

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