Growing Debate on Asbestos in the Developing World
As the Year of Action on Asbestos drew to its close, events took place in several developing countries which highlight the increasing prominence of asbestos in global debates on an individual's right to a healthy life. On December 3, 2006, Dr. T.K. Joshi, from the (Indian) Centre for Occupational & Environmental Health, held a well-attended asbestos meeting in New Delhi; several key international speakers participated, including Drs. Barry Castleman, Arthur Frank, Qamar Rahman, Elihu Richter and Sugio Furuya. Two weeks later, delegates met in Bangladesh for a meeting organized by the Asia Monitor Resource Centre (AMRC) on Banning Asbestos in South Asia. Indian delegate Gopal Krishna reported that the sessions in Bangladesh were both informative and productive and included a visit to shipyards where people were observed working in an asbestos-laden atmosphere with no health and safety precautions.
During 2006, media coverage of the Clemenceau debacle1 demonstrated yet another problem stemming from the historic use of asbestos: the contamination of end-of-life ships. As the Clemenceau traversed the high seas looking for a shipyard willing and able to decommission it, a campaign was waged by NGOs in several countries to enforce international law and conventions which prevent the transboundary shipment of hazardous waste such as the tons of asbestos contained on board the redundant French aircraft carrier. The subject of what to do about scrapping thousands of contaminated ships was discussed at length during the Conference of the Parties to the Basel Convention which took place from November 27-December 1, 2006 in Nairobi, Kenya.2 A fortnight later, another asbestos hazard was flagged in Africa by lawmakers in Uganda who demanded that the Government replace asbestos roofs on all educational institutions to prevent the risk of cancer. Ugandan State Minister of Finance and Economic Planning Gabriel Opio confirmed that although re-roofing of the schools would begin this year, the process would be carried out in phases over the coming years.3
Also in December, a new asbestos awareness initiative entitled Asbestos Kills!4 began in Brazil organized by ABREA, the Brazilian Asbestos Victims' Support Group. The Project in the Park is an outreach program which takes place one Sunday a month during the Summer in different public parks in and around São Paulo. Leaflets and information are distributed by ABREA volunteers explaining the asbestos hazard as well as tee shirts, balloons and badges. The campaign focuses on the bad behavior of a Wicked Witch named: Chrysotile. The first event took place on Sunday, December 3 in Aclimaao Park, near the center of the city. The public response to the inaugural event was positive and there was extensive media coverage of this innovative project.
Growing awareness of the global asbestos hazard will persist long after the Year of Action on Asbestos ends. In the years to come, the campaign to protect humanity and the environment from the asbestos scourge will build on the momentum achieved during 2006 and calls for asbestos bans by victims, NGOs, trade unions, researchers and medical professionals will reverberate around the globe until the use of this deadly fiber is prohibited worldwide.
January 4, 2007
3 Mulondo E & Luggya J. Government to Replace Asbestos Roofs. December 17, 2006. http://allafrica.com/stories/printable/200612180623.html
4 The Brazilian slogan for this campaign is: amianto mata!