Toxic Trade News / 7 September 2006
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Côte d'Ivoire: Cabinet Resigns Over Toxic Fumes Scandal
by UN Integrated Regional Information Networks,
7 September 2006 (Abidjan) – President Laurent Gbagbo has accepted the unprecedented resignation of Cote d'Ivoire's cabinet as anger mounts over the dumping of toxic waste in the main city, Abidjan, that made hundreds ill.

Charles Konan Banny retains his position as prime minister. Gbagbo asked him to propose a new government as soon as Thursday.

"You need to understand that nothing is above the health of Ivorians. You need to understand that we cannot kill Ivorians just like that. Death has been sown in a voluntary or involuntary manner - justice will decide," Gbagbo said after an emergency meeting in the capital, Yamoussoukro.

The waste, which was discarded in various residential areas, is residue from gasoline cargo shipped to Abidjan's port last month. The health scandal adds to an already tense atmosphere in Cote d'Ivoire as talks on Tuesday to break a deadlock over the country's peace process failed.

On Wednesday and Thursday, hundreds of people in Abidjan threw up barricades in protest over the toxic waste, brandishing placards accusing the government of negligence.

Hubert Oulay, presidential spokesman, announced on Wednesday the provision of safe water, better security around the contaminated sites and free medical treatment for people who had fallen ill from the waste.

Hundreds of people have sought treatment in Abidjan hospitals after breathing the noxious, toxic fumes. The Health Ministry said three people had died and 1,500 others had suffered ill effects from the waste.

In a bid to reassure the population, authorities have begun locating the dumping sites. So far, nine spots have been identified, including drains, diplomats said.

Aid workers told IRIN that Cote d'Ivoire has appealed for US $13.5 million to deal with the situation. But United Nations agencies and Western embassies said they first wanted to investigate the polluted sites before committing further. Teams from the UN and World Health Organisation have begun visiting the dumps. France plans to send six experts to Cote d'Ivoire on Friday, Western officials said.

"The humanitarian community is ready to intervene, but for a start we need to know the results of the experts' investigations. Nothing has been done so far and we do not have information on which drugs are needed," a humanitarian source said.

After gasoline from the Netherlands-based commodities trading firm Trafigura Beheer B.V., specialising in petrol, gasoline and base metals, was unloaded two weeks ago a local company was charged with discarding the residue, according to Trafigura.

In July, the Netherlands refused to accept the waste, which contained the noxious chemicals hydrogen sulphide and mercaptan, because of their toxicity and the cost of clean-up, according to media reports in Europe.

A report by the Ivorian Anti-Pollution Centre (CIAPOL), says hydrogen sulphide is "a toxic substance that can lead to immediate death when inhaled".

"We do not know yet the extent of the catastrophe, but what the politicians understand is that the consequences on the population are very serious," a Western diplomat said. "There is a gap between the politicians and the population. They feel utterly helpless, abandoned by the authorities who do nothing for the country, only for themselves."

It is increasingly unclear who will lead Cote d'Ivoire after 31 October when presidential elections had been scheduled. UN officials say the polls will likely be postponed.

Cote d'Ivoire has been split in two since an attempt to topple Gbagbo failed in September 2002. Some 10,000 UN and French peacekeepers monitor a ceasefire and a buffer zone between the rebel north and the government south. Three million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.

[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]

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