Sound management of chemicals and their waste is vital for sustainable development

June 25, 2018

Chemicals are a part of our modern society, and each day we use various chemical-based products to make our lives more comfortable and productive. However, without good management practices, chemicals and the hazardous waste they generate can pose significant risks to human health and the environment.

Some chemicals like Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) and mercury will have long-term negative impacts on the environment and human health. Unfortunately, exposure to such chemicals increases cancer rates, can lead to reproductive and development disorders, and immune system illnesses.

The World Health Organization has estimated that 1.3 million lives and 43 million disability-adjusted life-years were lost in 2012 due to exposure to selected chemicals. The poorest members of the global community are particularly vulnerable to the effects of toxic pollution. For example, 54 percent of the global burden of disease due to the chemicals is borne by children under the age of 15, and as much as 33 percent of the chemical body burden can be passed from a mother to a child.

Global chemicals production is growing fast, and most of the production is shifting to developing countries. While this leads to higher economic development, we must ensure that there are safeguards against the possibility of associated toxicity. The sound management of chemicals and waste is an important component of UNDP’s efforts to achieve sustainable, inclusive and resilient human development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

UNDP currently supports 84 countries in fulfilling their obligations under the Stockholm Convention on POPs by, for example, demonstrating effective alternative technologies and practices that avoid POPs releases. These projects have led to the proper disposal of 9,500 tonnes of POPs, safeguarding 220,000 people from high-risk POPs exposure, training 300,000 people, and adopting 65 policies and regulations.

Artisanal and small-scale gold mining (ASGM) is the sector that uses the most mercury. Approximately 15 million people, including an estimated 3 million women and children, earn their livelihoods through ASGM in 70 countries. Occupational exposure to mercury during gold extraction causes significant adverse neurological and other health effects. Therefore, UNDP is supporting a number of countries in their efforts to reduce and eliminate the use of mercury in ASGM. In addition, we are helping 42 countries to conduct Minamata Initial Assessment activities and ASGM National Action Plans, assess legal and regulatory frameworks, reduce emissions of mercury, and phase out mercury-containing products in the healthcare sector (e.g. thermometers and sphygmomanometers).

Pollution from plastics is a serious threat to humans and the natural environment. Open burning of plastics releases dioxins that are highly toxic. We need to rethink how we use plastic in our daily lives and take necessary actions to tackle this threat.

The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has supported the sound management of chemicals for over 25 years, and is now the funding mechanism for many global chemical and waste conventions. These issues and new strategies to scale up and accelerate sustainable development are under discussion at the upcoming GEF Assembly taking place from the 27 to 29 June in Da Nang Viet Nam.