HomeFood SecurityWHO Reports Highlight Dire Consequences of Pesticide Contamination in Pakistan

WHO Reports Highlight Dire Consequences of Pesticide Contamination in Pakistan

A farmer collects citrus in Tunis, Tunisia earlier this year. The North African country recently had a shipment of oranges rejected by the EU because they contained chlorpyrifos – a pesticide the EU exports to Tunisia. Photo: Yassine Gaidi/Anadolu Agency via Getty

In a disturbing revelation, it has come to light that the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (UK) have exported a significant quantity of a banned pesticide, Chlorpyrifos, to several poorer countries, including Pakistan. This alarming practice raises critical ethical and health concerns, warranting a closer examination.

Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate pesticide with a well-documented history of severe health risks. Both the EU and the UK, acknowledging the dangers it poses, have banned its use within their borders. Studies conducted by the World Health Organization (WHO) have demonstrated a direct link between Chlorpyrifos exposure and developmental disorders in children, neurotoxicity, and a range of adverse health effects in humans.

European companies are exporting hundreds of tonnes of a notoriously toxic pesticide – banned in Europe because of its links to brain damage in children and unborn babies – to countries in the Global South. 

Documents obtained under freedom of information laws by Unearthed and Public Eye, a Swiss NGO, have revealed that in the second half of last year European companies issued notifications for the export of more than 380 tonnes of banned chlorpyrifos insecticides. The same companies plan to ship similar amounts this year, a Greenpeace report stated.

The investigation reveals for the first time Europe’s continued export trade in chlorpyrifos since its use was prohibited in the EU in 2020. This ‘organophosphate’ pesticide was banned from EU fields in response to scientific evidence that it caused “adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes in children”, the report added.

The main destinations were Algeria, Tunisia, Kazakhstan, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Costa Rica. The risks posed by using highly hazardous pesticides in LMICs are “almost without exception” much higher than they would be in rich countries, according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations.

Despite the ban in their own countries, the EU and UK have exported over 1,000 tonnes of Chlorpyrifos to developing nations over the past decade, with Pakistan being a prominent recipient. This export practice has far-reaching implications for public health and the environment.

Health Risks in Pakistan

Direct Health Impact: Chlorpyrifos is extensively used in Pakistan’s agriculture sector, putting farmworkers, their families, and consumers at direct risk. WHO reports show that short-term exposure to Chlorpyrifos can result in symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, and skin rashes. Long-term exposure can lead to more severe health consequences, including lasting damage to the nervous system.

Environmental Contamination: The widespread use of Chlorpyrifos in Pakistan leads to environmental contamination. WHO and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) studies indicate that this not only jeopardizes human health but also disrupts ecosystems and poses threats to wildlife.

Food Safety Concerns: Residues of Chlorpyrifos often persist on fruits and vegetables, even after thorough washing. This raises alarming questions about the safety of Pakistan’s food supply, as unsuspecting consumers may be ingesting dangerous levels of the pesticide.

Impact on Children: WHO research highlights the vulnerability of children in Pakistan, who frequently engage in agricultural activities. Exposure during crucial developmental stages can result in learning disabilities and behavioral problems, impacting their future prospects.

The export of banned pesticides to poorer countries represents a grave ethical dilemma and public health crisis. To tackle this pressing issue effectively:

Regulatory Reforms: Policymakers in both exporting and importing nations should reinforce regulatory frameworks to restrict the export and use of hazardous pesticides, aligning them with international guidelines.

Safer Alternatives: Encouraging the adoption of safer, eco-friendly pesticides and promoting sustainable farming practices is vital.

Public Awareness: WHO and FAO, alongside local health organizations, must collaborate to raise awareness among Pakistani farmers and consumers about the dangers of Chlorpyrifos and the significance of adopting safe agricultural practices.

Global Collaboration: International cooperation is crucial to establishing a coordinated effort to regulate the export and use of banned pesticides.

The export of banned pesticides like Chlorpyrifos to Pakistan is a deeply concerning practice that puts the health and well-being of the population at risk. Addressing this urgent issue requires concerted efforts from governments, international organizations, and concerned citizens. By acting swiftly and decisively, we can protect vulnerable communities from the hazards of unchecked pesticide use and ensure a safer, healthier future for all.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Coverpage’s editorial stance

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