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Dana Al-Zyadat, Jordan news

Pesticides among main causes of death from self-poisoning

Dana Al-Zyadat, Jordan news

last updated: Aug 21,2023

(File photo: Ameer Khalifeh/Jordan News)
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AMMAN — Communities across the Middle East and North Africa are facing alarming cancer rates, exacerbated by the troubling regulations of the EU which permit companies to export deadly chemicals banned within its borders. The most prevalent and relevant case of these chemicals to Jordan is pesticides, which enter our borders illegally either in their pure form or on produce coated with these chemicals.

A recent report has unveiled the shocking reality that lethal European exports to countries like Algeria, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia are causing harmful brain damage in children. Morocco stands out as a major recipient of toxic pesticides prohibited in Europe due to their cancer-causing effects on humans and catastrophic pollution of water sources, leading to the destruction of aquatic life and vital honeybee populations crucial for food production.

This issue goes beyond a few nations, Turkey, Qatar, Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Kuwait, Oman, Syria, and Iran have also received substantial quantities of these hazardous pesticides, blatantly disregarding international agreements and fundamental human rights principles, according to Ekō (formerly SumOfUs).

In light of these issues, and the clear detrimental impact of these substances, Jordan News has interviewed a series of local experts on the subject, all of whom urge for tighter regulations and screenings for produce and pesticides, to safeguard the health of Jordanian people as well as Jordanian agriculture, which can be equally harmed by negligent practices. These experts also spread awareness on the impact of these substances and what they are, and how we can battle their usage.

Deadly pesticides in Jordan
The chairman of the Jordan Environmental Union, Omar Shoshan, stated that farmers resort to using banned, inexpensive pesticides smuggled from neighboring countries, aiming to reduce costs and effectively combat agricultural pests.

“Persisting with the current approach of extensive pesticide use mostly harms the farmers themselves, potentially depriving them of export opportunities”

He emphasized that pesticides leave adverse effects on crucial systems, potentially transmitting damage to people’s health and the environment. Residues from pesticides hinder children’s developmental growth, in addition to causing various health issues, notably cancer. Consequently, it is imperative to tighten control over fields, central markets, and disseminate agricultural guidance. Each farmer or crop should possess a certificate proving the safety of their agricultural products, which elevates the product quality.

The reasons behind the use of unsafe pesticides include their efficiency and rapidity in eliminating agricultural pests, coupled with a lack of awareness about their harmful effects. Shosan highlighted that these pesticides disrupt the ecosystem by eradicating other insects with vital environmental roles, leading to an imbalance in the overall ecosystem. Some banned pesticides also affect soil composition.

Shoshan said that persisting with the current approach of extensive pesticide use mostly harms the farmers themselves, potentially depriving them of export opportunities. He emphasized the need to enhance agricultural extension efficiency and regularly monitor pests and issues within the agricultural sector.

Possible approaches
Agricultural expert, Ibrahim Al-Sharif informed Jordan News that while pesticides globally impact human health, their effects can be mitigated through optimizing usage. Jordan is among the countries that ensure proper pesticide use by imposing strict conditions on registration and importation. Although some specific instructions, such as adhering to safety intervals and obtaining global pesticide registration approved by the WHO, are enforced after importation.

Sharif clarified that these pesticides are indispensable to combat crop-devastating fungi and insects that can lead to food shortages and famines. Hence, he stressed the importance of imposing control measures and penalties in case of violations.

Director of the plant research and protection directorate at the National Agricultural Research Center, Ziad Al-Nasser, pointed out that the center aims to optimize pesticide usage, conduct scientific field experiments and research, and submit reports to the Ministry of Agriculture to take the necessary actions.

Abdullah Al-Zaben, head of the Jordan Exporters and Producers Association for Fruit and Vegetables, highlighted that Jordan has entered into international agreements concerning plant health, and any pesticide prohibited in Europe is also prohibited in Jordan. Furthermore, many farmers in Jordan are adopting the Best Control Management system, where pesticide efficacy lasts for one to two days, despite its increased costs. Nevertheless, Zaben stressed that stricter monitoring of fruit imports from neighboring countries is required.

Shada Al-Sharif, senior advisor on green economy, stressed the importance of raising awareness and advocating for nature-based solutions, including a return to the use of native plants. The increase in awareness in Jordan can lead to economic prosperity and improved individual health.

A scientific standpoint
Abdullah Al-Zaben also explained that pesticide effectiveness diminishes when applied to plants due to Jordan’s challenging climate characterized by drought, high temperatures, and inadequate humidity. Most pesticides used in Jordan are contact pesticides, which are entirely eliminated through simple washing. The water used for irrigation in Jordan contains high pH values, which reduces the effectiveness of pesticides, unlike the water in Europe, which has a low pH that enhances the efficacy and persistence of pesticides on plants for a longer period of time.

“Pesticides are indispensable to combat crop-devastating fungi and insects that can lead to food shortages and famines”

Oroba Al-Refai, head of Hands for Environment and Sustainable Development and PO in International Pollutants Elimination Network IPEN, told Jordan News exposure to pesticides is one of the main causes of death from self-poisoning, especially in low- and middle-income countries. Therefore, its danger primarily affects farmers, then residents of areas near pesticide usage sites, and consumers of crops excessively treated with hazardous pesticides.

She added that chronic health effects related to pesticides include cancers, tumors, nervous system disorders, reproductive issues, immune system impacts, and disruptions to the endocrine system. Regarding soil, insecticides have harmed microorganisms in the soil that play a crucial role in helping plants access soil nutrients, leading to damage to biodiversity.
Pesticides spread through air currents, contaminating surrounding areas and harming birds, mammals, fish, and other species. The flow of insecticides into surface and groundwater systems has begun to damage human drinking water supplies.

In recent years, the term “Highly Hazardous Pesticides” (HHP) has been expanded to include not only highly toxic pesticides but also those causing serious chronic health effects. Generally, proving chronic health effects is more difficult than proving acute toxic effects.

Currently, the pesticides included in the lists of the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) are:
•           Aldrin
•           Chlordane
•           DDT
•           Dieldrin
•           Endrin
•           Heptachlor
•           Hexachlorobenzene
•           Mirex
•           Toxaphene
•           Chlordimeform
•           Alpha-Hexachlorocyclohexane
•           Beta-Hexachlorocyclohexane
•           Lindane
•           Pentachlorobenzene
•           Pentachlorophenol, its salts, and esters
•           Technical Endosulfan and its related isomers

The WHO, in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN, is currently working to establish more effective mechanisms for pesticide use and the protection of human health.

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