Chic African Culture Africa Factbook

Managing African Waters

International conventions like the London Convention aim to regulate marine waste disposal and protect African coastal ecosystems.

Like other continents, Africa faces environmental challenges related to marine pollution and waste disposal. The region has a combined total coastline of 30,725 kilometers or 19,091 miles. The London Convention and subsequent amendments and protocols set international standards for responsible waste disposal to protect African coastal waters and marine ecosystems.

African nations that are signatory parties to the London Convention must adhere to its provisions. This includes prohibiting the disposal of hazardous materials like high-level radioactive wastes in their respective maritime zones and exclusive economic zones (EEZs).

African Waters
African Waters

Waste Management in African Waters

In 1958, a significant decision was made during the United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea. It was agreed that "every State shall take measures to prevent pollution of the sea from dumping of radioactive wastes, taking into account any standards and regulations formulated by competent international organizations." At that time, the world was facing a growing concern related to the disposal of industrial wastes, including radioactive materials, into the oceans. This practice was seen as a potential threat to marine environments.

As the 1970s approached, the international community recognized the need for a comprehensive convention to regulate these activities and prevent marine pollution. The aim was to establish standardized procedures while discouraging actions that could harm the world's oceans. With time, there was increasing pressure, particularly from smaller countries not involved in ocean disposal, to further restrict waste disposal practices.

Then, in November 1993, a pivotal decision was reached: the disposal of industrial and radioactive wastes at sea was to be prohibited. This marked a significant milestone in the effort to protect our marine ecosystems.

The origins of these regulations can be traced back to the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment held in Stockholm in 1972. This led to the establishment of the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter, commonly referred to as the London Convention 1972. This convention, which came into force in 1975, was instrumental in regulating materials disposed of in the marine environment.

High-level radioactive wastes

Within the London Convention, a system of categorization was created. It included black and grey lists. Substances on the blacklist were strictly prohibited from disposal except in trace quantities. Substances on the grey list were subject to special care measures, and their disposal required a special permit to ensure that it would not harm the marine environment.

High-level radioactive wastes (HLW) were placed on the blacklist, acknowledging their potential dangers. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) was recognized as the competent international body in radioactive waste disposal and radiation protection. It was entrusted with the responsibility of defining HLW unsuitable for dumping at sea.

Other radioactive wastes and materials not on the black list, including low- and intermediate-level wastes, were placed on the grey list. Special permits were required to dispose of these materials, and this process was closely monitored to prevent adverse effects on the marine environment.

Coastal communities in Africa often rely on fishing and tourism as primary sources of livelihood. The London Convention and its associated regulations help protect the health of marine ecosystems and support the sustainability of these coastal economies.

Marine pollution knows no borders, and waste disposal in one part of the ocean can affect distant shores. Waste dumping activities in other parts of the world can influence Africa's coastal regions, emphasizing the need for international cooperation.


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