Pesticide handling in Yemen is uncontrolled [Archives:2006/988/Health]

October 9 2006

Anwar Moghram
Yemen began using pesticides in 1935 and continued in limited use until the early 1950s, when the country began using chlorinated hydrocarbons to fight locusts, cotton blight and palm diseases. Pesticide use increased in the 1960s due to joint agricultural projects between the Agriculture Ministry and donors.

Processes involving importing, using, selling and storing pesticides grew in the 1990s, but with complete absence of law to organize such processes. Therefore, Yemen became an open market for various types of pesticides, including herbicides (for weed control), insecticides and fungicides.

In 1999, concerned authorities issued Law No. 25 regulating pesticide handling for plant pests. The law was followed by other laws and regulations, but they didn't change the situation.

Although the law was issued seven years ago, 50 percent of stores selling and storing such pesticides continue to operate without licenses. Additionally, Yemen has no manual regarding banned imported pesticides. According to information from the General Department of Plant Protection (GDPP), one-third of the pesticides in Yemen are considered banned varieties.

Absence of monitoring

Most Sana'a stores selling and storing such chemical toxins are located on the same street as the GDPP, which is responsible for arranging marketing and handling procedures for such products.

“The 1999 law gave the GDPP the authority to arrange, observe and monitor pesticide circulation. However, the agriculture minister issued a resolution authorizing governorate agriculture offices to license such stores and conduct the monitoring process. The aim of this decision was to reduce centralization and facilitate obtaining of licenses,” GDPP general manager Abdulqawi Abduljalil explained.

“Unfortunately many such offices neglected their role so that 50 percent of pesticide stores nowadays are operating without licenses. Additionally, many stores don't comply with industry standards and conditions. Moreover, we also experience pesticide smuggling. All of these factors create a bad pesticide situation in Yemen,” he continued, describing the reasons for the nation's random pesticide handling.

Abduljalil confirmed that the 1999 law will be implemented in the near future by conducting regular surveillance campaigns of such pesticide stores, adding, “We'll close any store without a license or that doesn't follow standards.”

Internationally banned pesticides

While there's no fixed data on the amount of banned pesticides in Yemeni markets, Abduljalil assesses that they comprise 30 percent of the total market. He states, “There are 335 internationally banned pesticide compounds. In the future, we're going to confiscate these materials and prevent them from entering Yemen.”

However, pesticide trader and engineer Hamza Omer Ali places the number higher, proposing that as much as 80 percent of pesticides on the Yemeni market are banned internationally.

Concerning methods used to distinguish between fatal toxins and allowable pesticides in Yemen, Abduljalil notes that the GDPP doesn't have laboratories for this purpose. “In recent years, we didn't even have a list of banned pesticides, but now we're close to preparing a list and announcing it,” he adds.

Environmental risks and diseases

Regarding pesticides' negative impacts and risks and their affects upon living organisms, plant protection expert Abdulqawi Abdulaziz says such compounds are considered the most dangerous chemical toxins because they don't break down easily.

“Many banned pesticides are on the Yemeni market due to random marketing, as well as expanded cross-border smuggling operations,” he notes. Such pesticides leave behind hazardous waste, thereby killing insects, plants, fungi and other organisms, Abdulaziz explains.

“Random and widespread pesticide use causes environmental imbalance, since such pesticides also destroy natural biological enemies. Such imbalance will turn plant disease into a plant epidemic and thus create new breeds with stronger resistance to such pesticides,” he warns.

Abdulaziz points out that pesticide use also is negatively impacting agricultural lands and wells and contaminating water. He also referred to other pesticides, whose dosages include lethal amounts, which cause accidental poisonings and death.

According to Abdulaziz, the most dangerous pesticide on the Yemeni market is methyl bromide used to sterilize plastic greenhouses that keep vegetables like cucumbers, tomatoes, and sweet green peppers because such houses are randomly and massively treated with insecticides.

“Such crops become like a toxin sandwich because the insecticide remains on the crops, which are picked before the toxins break down,” he adds.

Abdulaziz accuses farmers of being greedy because they don't follow instructions regarding picking their crops for marketing, but rather ignore the importance of allowing crops time after pesticide spraying to ensure it breaks down.

Pesticides seller, Saleh Al-Dhubiani points out that Yemen's largest crop, qat, receives 70 percent dose of pesticides, whereas fruits and vegetables receive 30 percent. Abduljalil agrees, but notes that such estimate is based upon personal evaluation as no studies exist to prove it.

National Cancer Center general director Dr. Nadeem Mohammed Sa'eed says many pesticides are toxic and have a fast and direct impact, while others have long-term impacts and cause diseases like cancer. “Thirty percent of Yemeni cancer patients have mouth and gum cancers due to pesticides sprayed on qat and vegetables. This is one of the world's highest rates,” he notes.

According to Sa'eed, some patients have entered the hospital after chewing poisoned qat and within 72 hours, they experience jaundice, and a coma, which may lead to death.

Farmer Saleh Al-Bahri recounts that another farmer he knows sprayed his crops with a certain pesticide three years ago, but didn't use any type of protection, so he experienced peeling of the skin on his face, hands and other body parts.

Awareness campaigns and implementing law

Regarding farmer awareness and training, Abduljalil says the GDPP is offering training courses to farmers, agricultural advisors and pesticide sellers.

However, Al-Bahri denies that farmers in his region have received any type of training, but the farmers inquire about agricultural matters from agricultural guides when they visit the area for campaigns to fight certain plant diseases.

Al-Dhubiani says the GDPP only organized one training course three years ago. “But we [agriculture guides] do our best to explain to farmers how to use pesticides properly and safely. Some farmers respond to us while others pay no attention to such instructions,” he adds. Ali also blames farmers, saying many use pesticides not to fight blights but to grow and ripen crops faster to sell on the market.

While Sa'eed insists on the importance of training courses and awareness campaigns, he also admits that such activities aren't enough. “Rules and laws must be applied, monitoring must be conducted regularly and any dissenter or lawbreaker must be punished,” he emphasizes.