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Help for bees, child labour in gold mining and Somalia’s problems worsen
EPA issues new label to protect bees
In response to the global decline in bee populations, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has added new advisory labels on pesticide products registered for outdoor use that include neonicotinoids, to help minimise exposure to bees and other pollinators.
The labels include a “pollinator protection box” with instructions on how to better protect pollinators, including steps to limit pesticide spray drift and product use when plants and trees flower. The label will be featured on products containing the neonicotinoids imidacloprid, dinotefuran, clothianidin and thiamethoxam.
But some critics say this is far from enough. The non-profit group Beyond Pesticides, along with beekeepers, environmental, and consumer groups, filed a lawsuit against the EPA for its “failure to protect pollinators from dangerous pesticides”.
Beyond Pesticides points to several issues with EPA’s new labelling scheme, one of the largest being that label warnings don’t address the fact that neonicotinoids are systemic, meaning plants absorb the pesticides and disseminate them through their pollen and nectar for most of their lifetime, “continually endangering any pollinators that forage or pollinate these contaminated plants”.
In the US, neonicotinoids are also commonly used to treat seeds such as maize and soybeans. Any dust from these seeds can easily contaminate other fields and threaten honeybees. And there are also concerns that the label won’t be properly enforced.
In response, the EPA says that the prevailing theory among scientists is that bee decline is a result of multiple stressors including pesticide exposure (which they hope the new label will help curb), but also a result of pests, pathogens, viruses, poor nutrition, bee management practices, and lack of genetic diversity.
Still, the EPA is requiring neonicotinoid manufacturers to complete new field studies to “better understand [all] pollinator risks”, and determine what further action should be taken. But for now, the use of neonicotinoids is still sanctioned.
Tanzania’s small-scale miners
A report by Human Rights Watch – Toxic Toil – details wide-scale incidences of child labour and mercury exposure throughout Tanzania’s small-scale mines.
Tanzania is one of largest producers of gold in Africa, with about 5% of its GDP and one-third of exports coming from mining. Experts estimate that 10% of the country’s gold comes from small-scale mining, which relies on more than 800,000 miners, thousands of whom are children.
Children, particularly orphans desperate for work, seek employment at small-scale mines and are involved throughout the mining process, from drilling holes to extraction, using mercury to mix into gold ore powder that they burn to recover the gold. This process is dangerous and can lead to serious respiratory, neurological and musculoskeletal problems. Children also miss out on education, and girls face sexual harassment and exploitation.
To address this rampant problem, the report stresses that international companies buying gold from Tanzania’s small-scale gold mines must have due diligence systems in place to ensure their supply chains are child-labour free. Unfortunately, gold traders interviewed for the report lacked such procedures. Moreover, the global focus on human rights due diligence for “conflict gold” has resulted in less action to deter suppliers that use child labour. There is still much work to be done.
Médecins Sans Frontières leaves Somalia
After 22 years and countless incidents of violence, the international medical humanitarian organisation Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) (MSF) is closing its operations in Somalia.
Somalia is the only place in the world where MSF has been forced to hire armed protection for its staff and facilities, says Polly Markandya, MSF UK head of communications. One of the gravest issues has been the failure of major Somali actors to protect MSF staff, which has led to the deaths of 16 MSF staff, including two brutally killed in Mogadishu, and the abduction of two staff from a Kenyan refugee camp.
“Many armed groups and civilian leaders do not have the minimum levels of respect for basic medical care and those who provide it,” explains Markandya. “I think over the last 22 years we have accepted higher levels of risk and somehow absolved it and we’ve just reached our limit.”
MSF’s programmes spanned the country. More than 1,750 staff provided essential services including free primary healthcare, malnutrition treatment, maternal health, surgery, epidemic response, immunisations, water and relief supplies. In 2012 alone, MSF provided more than 624,000 medical consultations, admitted 41,100 patients to hospitals, cared for 30,090 malnourished children, vaccinated 58,620 people, and delivered 7,300 babies.
“All parties will need to show willingness to negotiate acceptable conditions for humanitarian aid and medical assistance,” says Markandya. “We are ready to engage in such negotiations, but are aware this will not be an easy process with quick solutions and will take time. We do not expect to resume operations in Somalia any time soon.”Human rights ngo news ngo roundup NGOwatch