17 September 2011

South Asian countries urged not to let their beaches be used as dumping grounds:

South Asian countries must not allow the use of their beaches as dumping grounds for the west’s chemically contaminated and extremely hazardous ships. This was the crux of a seminar organised by the Sustainable Development Policy Institute (SDPI) in Islamabad, said a press release on Friday.

Syeda Rizwana Hasan, Advocate Supreme Court of Bangladesh and Programs Director, Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) said that shipbreaking yards should be closed in the region as they are not environmentally safe, economically beneficial and socially productive.

Shipbreaking in Gadani, Pakistan  
She said that 107 ships were dismantled this year in Pakistan, as compared to 7 ships last year.

The participants maintained that the shipbreaking yards must not be allowed to operate without proper environmental protection and sound management of asbestos, polychlorinated biphenyls, ozone-depleting substances, and a range of heavy metals.

They said the workers have to work in extremely unsafe, unhygienic and exploitative environment; they stressed upon the need to ensure welfare and provision of Personal Protective Equipment for the workers.

Dr Aurangzaib Khan of the Planning Commission of Pakistan said social and environmental aspects of shipbreaking industry require serious considerations at policy level.

Gadani (West of Karachi) - ships demolition yard. Workers are pulling heavy cables which will be used to winch up cut metal structures from the ships.
Hasan said that although shipbreaking industry provides 25% of iron core along with livelihood to 18,000 workers, its environmental and social costs are unprecedented for Bangladesh.

She informed that coastal fishing in Chitagong is almost gone, 14 species of fish have gone extinct, thousand of acres of mangrove forest have been chopped off and the entire area has become chemically polluted with un-reparable damage to human health.

She said International Maritime Organization (IMO) regulations of putting responsibility on shipbreakers and not on ship owners, who are primarily responsible for contamination, is wrong. The western countries are evading responsibilities as the ships are first sent to places like Monrovia where they change flags and then are redirected to South Asian ports for shipbreaking; this helps them avoid environmental bindings and regulations, Hasan said.

“We need to send a clear message to the western world that our beaches are not dumping grounds for them, neither are the lives of our poor labourers a plaything,” she added.

A documentary “Iron Eaters” was also screened. Then Kanwar Iqbal, SDPI Research Associate, gave a presentation on the shipbreaking industry, its issues and possible solutions.

Unsafe cutting work in progress at Gadani Shipbreaking yard, Pakistan 
He said that currently, the global centre for shipbreaking and the recycling industry is located in South Asia, specifically in Bangladesh, India, China and Pakistan who account for 70-80% of the international market for shipbreaking.

This is mainly due to a shift seen in 1980 as a result of global environmental order when several countries enacted legislation to ban shipbreaking in their countries. This however, he said, comes with an unprecedented damage to nature and exploitation of workers at large.

He put forth recommendations such as workers registration, obligatory onsite pollution and safety control equipment, provision of Personal Protective Equipment to workers, drafting and implementing environmental health, safety procedures, Ship Recycling Protocol, training/capacity building, healthcare system and hazardous waste disposal thermal treatment facility.

Source: The Express Tribune. 17 September 2011.

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