Chemical use in Africa
“The goal of balancing the economic and social benefits of chemicals with their health and environmental risks is easy to understand and agree to. But how to achieve this balance is a highly complex problem – or rather, it requires understanding and solving many complex problems. Managing the risks of chemicals is interconnected with many other issues, including wastes and pollution, global warming, resource depletion, agriculture, biotechnology, loss of biodiversity, poverty and women’s rights.” UNEP 2004a
The use of chemicals has brought immense benefits to humankind, and at the same time it has had negative impacts on human health and safety, particularly for the poorest and youngest people, on the integrity of terrestrial and marine ecosystems, and on air and water quality. The unsound management and use of chemicals poses threats to human well-being at many levels: it threatens the sustainability of the environment which provides essential goods-and-services for livelihoods, it undermines human health, it threatens physical security, and it reduces the ability of communities to care for themselves and, especially, for children.
Chemicals present both known and unknown risks. Some chemicals, including heavy metals, persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and poly-chlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), present known risks. Lead and mercury, for example, have serious and irreversible impacts on the mental development of children. Over the past half-century there has been an accelerated release of artificial chemicals into the environment, many of which are long-lived and transformed into byproducts whose behaviours, synergies and impacts are not well-known. New research indicates that many chemicals widely in use, including in household and personal care products, that are assumed to be safe by consumers and downstream users, pose significant threats to people and biodiversity. As chemical production increases globally, wildlife contamination has become even more pervasive, and troubling health threats are ever more apparent. Establishing and implementing systems for the sound management of chemicals must be a priority for Africa. A key challenge is how to account for this aspect of uncertainty.
Chemical substances, and their derivatives, are widely used in many development and economic sectors including industry, agriculture, mining, water purification, public health – particularly disease eradication – and infrastructure development. However, production, storage, transportation, and removal of these substances can pose risks to people and the environment. The challenge facing Africa is how to harness the benefits of chemicals, while minimizing the costs. While Africa has made significant progress in developing a regional framework for the management of chemicals throughout their life cycle – production, transportation, storage, use and disposal – much still needs to be done in integrating this approach into national and sub-regional systems for implementation.
Although Africa is currently neither a major consumer nor producer of chemicals in global terms, the level of risk faced by poor countries is disproportionately higher than in those with sufficient resources to effectively manage and monitor chemical use. Additionally, many poor people have weakened immune systems, making them more vulnerable to chemical-related illness; their well-being may be further compromised by lack of access to information about the impact of chemicals, and their living conditions and work places may leave them exposed to the hazards of toxic chemicals. With economic growth, Africa is likely to grow as both a producer and consumer of chemical products, increasing the importance of this issue. There is also a trend to relocate chemical production away from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries to developing countries.
The global chemical industry has experienced steady growth in production, consumption and trade over the last 35 years. The value of the chemical trade rose from US$171,000 million in 1970 to US$1.5 million million in 1998. The sector is expected to continue to grow until 2020. Four broad trends are evident:
- Global chemical output will continue to rise. In 2010, it is predicted to increase by 63 percent compared to 1996. Estimated annual growth rates for the global industry range from 2.6 to 3.5 percent, corresponding to the predicted rate of growth for global gross domestic product (GDP). By 2020, global output is expected to increase by 85 percent over 1995 levels.
- Globally, per capita consumption is increasing.
- There will be a shift in chemicals production from OECD countries to non-OECD countries. Nevertheless, OECD countries will remain the largest producers in 2020, but their share will decrease to 69 percent of total world production, that is 10 percent below 1995 levels.
- Total demand for chemicals will increase more rapidly in the developing than in the developed world. By 2020, the developing world will increase its share from 23 percent of global chemical demand and 21 percent of production in 1995 to 33 percent and 31 percent, respectively.
The global chemical industry is still concentrated in 16 countries that account for about 80 percent of global production. These are the US, Japan, Germany, China, France, UK, Italy, Korea, Brazil, Belgium, Luxembourg, Spain, Netherlands, Taiwan, Switzerland and Russia. Key developing country producers include the Republic of Korea, India, Brazil, China, Mexico, Singapore, Argentina, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines. Figure 1 gives an overview of the chemical industry.
Production and consumption patterns
Although Africa’s contribution to value-added production is very small, current trends suggest that its contribution to global production of chemicals will continue to grow. Between 1976 and 1996, this sector grew by 2.5 percent per year. Given that projections indicate that chemicals manufacturing will be relocated from OECD countries to developing countries in the medium term, this sector can be expected to grow (Figure 1). The shift in production from OECD countries to developing countries is directly related to the rise of multinational chemical companies, who have been able to relocate and invest in developing countries. This move may also be related to growing public concerns in developed countries about chemicals and the hazards they pose, as well as lower labour costs and a less regulated production environment in developing countries. Increasing consumption, directly linked to economic growth and improved levels of per capita GDP, underlies market development. There has also been an increase in international trade as tariffs and non-trade barriers have been removed in order to comply with the provisions of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
The most advanced chemical industries in the region are found in Northern, Western and Southern Africa. The development of chemical industries in these subregions has been facilitated by access to larger markets and by the presence of natural resources that can support growth in this sector, such as natural gas and oil, and well-developed infrastructure and communications. In Northern Africa, there are strong chemicals industries in Algeria, Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia. In Western African, Nigeria is the main producer and user of chemicals. In Southern Africa, the prime market and producer is South Africa. South Africa is also the only African country with a chemicals company listed among the top 30 in the world (the South African company is number 16). South Africa’s chemical industry differs from others in the region in that energy use is largely based on coal.
Although it is relatively small by international standards, South Africa’s chemical industry is the largest in Africa, contributing about 5 percent of GDP and employing approximately 150,000 people. Annual production of primary and secondary process chemicals is in the order of 13 million tonnes, with a value of around US$2,825.75 million.
Industry predictions are that future global growth in the chemicals industry will be led by pharmaceuticals, followed by specialty chemicals, agricultural chemicals, textile fibres and industrial chemicals. Currently, petrochemical commodities, polymers and fertilizers are the main products of the African industry. However, a number of African countries have capacity in pharmaceuticals production and many are investing in oil and gas, which are key drivers for the chemicals industries. The production of agricultural chemicals is a key focus of the chemical industry in Africa. Africa contributed approximately 4 percent to total world pesticides (insecticides, fungicides, disinfectants) production in 1998, and approximately 5 percent in 2002. Global trade in this sector is shown in Figures 2 and 3.
In 2002, Africa contributed only about 3 percent of total world nitrogenous fertilizer production – with most coming from Egypt and South Africa; however, production from these two countries has declined between 1998 and 2002. In 1998 Africa’s contribution to global production of phosphates fertilizer was approximately 7 percent, but this has also declined from 537 tonnes in 1998 to 369 tonnes in 2002. The capacity to produce agricultural chemicals requires investment in technology, access to finance and raw materials. It is notable that the top two producers of pesticides in Africa, Egypt and South Africa, are also leaders in the production of oil-related products. Mining chemicals produced in Africa include explosives and accessories such as fuses and detonators, mineral processing chemicals such as leaching agents, floatation agents, smelting and refining chemicals.
The chemical market in Africa is primarily targeted at meeting local needs rather than being export-orientated. Nevertheless, the import and export of chemicals are on an upward swing; this trend is expected to continue given the increasing demand for chemicals by Africa’s growing economies. In the case of the Northern African Mediterranean countries, the proximity to European markets has led to a greater export focus than in other areas.
Although in all chemical sectors consumption is currently higher in developed countries than in developing countries, demand for chemicals and chemical products is likely to increase as disposable income grows. Globally, there is a correlation between chemical consumption and GDP per capita, which suggests that there is tremendous scope for increased consumption of chemicals in developing countries. Still Africa’s share of the global market is currently very small (Figure 4). These chemicals come from a range of countries: China and India are emerging as the major exporters of chemicals to Africa.
Generally, imports of chemicals exceed exports due to a mismatch in production and the size of the market. Figure 3 illustrates this in relation to trade in pesticides: most African countries were net importers of pesticides.
Although the use of chemicals has supported the development of industry and agriculture, and generated broad health benefits through the management of disease, there are serious risks to human health and environmental sustainability associated with chemical use, making this a critical area to which Africa needs to turn its attention. The global nature of chemicals issues requires a comprehensive and global approach that brings together all stakeholders.
Several social and economic trends make sound management essential if development options are not to be foreclosed. Africans will face increased exposure to chemicals as a result of the growth of global trade in chemicals, changing production patterns and the predicted relocation of chemical production to developing countries, the growing market for chemical products, increasing urbanization and the lack of adequate resources for infrastructural development and maintenance particularly in the water sector, and increased industrial employment and corresponding work place exposure to chemicals.
There is a need for improved coordination and cooperation between global, regional and national levels to identify gaps, reduce duplication, maximize institutional efficiency and develop synergies. However the success of multilateral environmental agreements (MEAs) must ultimately be assessed at the national level. It is essential for Africa to focus on creating an integrated policy approach and viable institutional mechanisms to support this. At the national level chemical environmental laws will need to be updated in line with the current scientific knowledge.
In facing the increased management challenges, national governments could, in line with regional and global trends, focus their attention specifically on: Risk reduction – prevention of and preparedness for accidents and natural disasters.
- Information and knowledge – improving the accessibility of information on hazardous chemicals.
- Governance – integration of SAICM objectives into national development planning.
- Capacity-building and technical assistance – promotion of life cycle approaches to chemicals management.
- Illegal international traffic – symposium on illegal international traffic in chemicals and hazardous wastes
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- CEFIC, 2005. Facts and Figures: The European chemical industry in a worldwide perspective: July 2005. European Chemical Industry Council.
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- OECD, 2001. Environmental Outlook for the Chemicals Industry. Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.
- UNEP, 2004a. Balancing the benefits of chemicals with their health and environmental risks. Industry and Environment 27(-3), 3.
- UNEP, 2004b. The chemical industry and international cooperation to manage chemical risks: facts and figures. Industry and Environment 27(2-3), 4-6.
- UNEP, 2006. Africa Environment Outlook 2.
- UNEP, 2006. Background paper on chemicals management. UNEP/GCss.IX/9/add.2. Background papers for the ministerial level consultations on energy and environment for development, chemicals management as well as tourism and the environment. Addendum. Ninth Special Session of the Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum, Dubai, 7-9 February 2006. Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme, Nairobi.
- UNSTATS, 2005. Industrial Commodity Statistics Yearbook 2002. United Nations, New York.
- WWF, 2004a. wildlife.org/toxics/pubs/causesforconcern.pdf Causes for Concern: Chemicals and Wildlife. WWF-World Wide Fund for Nature, Gland. (prepared by Brown,V.)
- WWF, 2004b. Wildlife at Risk: Emerging Chemical Threats. WWF-World Wide Fund for Nature.
This is a chapter from Africa Environment Outlook 2: Our Environment, Our Wealth (e-book).
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