- SINGAPORE (Reuters) -- Asia's toxic waste nightmare is set to worsen as
poor countries, desperate for dollars and eager to expand emaciated economies,
do so at the expense of the environment, campaigners said on Monday.
- "That is a real danger," Suvit
Yodmani, Bangkok-based regional director of the United Nations Environment
Program (UNEP), told Reuters by telephone.
- "Asian countries have to be very,
very careful because of the pace of their industrial development,"
- UNEP and others are concerned that the
quick and dirty dash for growth, which ravaged Asia's environment through
the 1980s and 1990s, will continue into the next millennium.
- Asia has developed a reputation as a
dumping ground for the more than 400 million tons of hazardous waste UNEP
estimates the world generates each year.
- The region's pollution problems have
been highlighted again by violent protests in Cambodia where at least one
rioter died during a weekend of demonstrations against suspected toxic
waste dumping in the country by a Taiwanese firm.
- Banned pesticides, waste oils, heavy
metals and hazardous medical waste find their way to the region, despite
the Basel Convention -- signed by 117 nations -- banning the export of
toxic waste from rich countries to poor ones.
- While the Basel Convention has been effective
in stopping much of the overt trade in toxic contaminants, environmental
campaigners say it continues underground.
- Shipbreaking is one of the biggest problems
facing Asia, according to environmental group Basel Action Network (BAN).
- "About half of the world's broken
ships end up in Gujarat (in India) on a 10-kilometer stretch of beach,"
BAN's Ravi Agarwal said.
- There, ships contaminated by asbestos,
lead-based paint, heavy metals, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) are
broken by hand by about 40,000 Indian workers without protective clothing
exposing themselves daily to deadly carcinogens, BAN says.
- The latest ship destined for the region
is P&O Nedlloyd's Encounter Bay, the subject of an intense international
campaign by Greenpeace which alleged it contained toxic waste.
- Shipbreaking demand is predicted to double
over the next five years, ironically as old ships are scrapped because
of strict measures that stipulate oil tankers have double hulls to prevent
disasters like the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989.
- A growing problem, though, is intra-regional
dumping, says Von Hernandez, Greenpeace's Manila-based Asia toxics campaigner.
- "Right now it is the newly industrialized
economies of Southeast Asia that are generating lots of waste and dumping
it in poorer countries in the region," he said.
- Hernandez said the Philippines is a major
center for lead acid battery dumping, Thailand has become popular for waste
oil exports -- mainly from South Korea -- while Cambodia and Indonesia
have also seen waste imports rise.
- "We cannot put a figure on how big
the business is because so much of it goes on illegally and unmonitored,"
- Many Asian countries do not have the
expensive technology needed to deal with toxic wastes they create, let
- Those that do find them under-utilized
because of weak law enforcement, which ensures waste never reaches the
- And while Asia's economic crisis threatens
to exacerbate regional pollution problems, the drive for efficiency in
many industry sectors could help solve them.
- A UNEP study involving 35 Asian paper
mills showed introducing efficient manufacturing techniques and reducing
waste generated savings on the bottom line.
- Uwe Weber, Singapore-based deputy director
of the European Union-backed Regional Institute of Environmental Technology,
said the business case for efficiency had a greater impact than environmental
- "If business starts to do things,
it is much more sustainable than development aid which, when it stops after
three or five years, just sees projects end. Giving business a stake in
it will raise the environment's profile," he said.