Windhoek-Environment and Tourism Minister Pohamba Shifeta says now is the time to intensify public awareness on mercury issues now that Namibia has become the 75th Party to the Minamata Convention on Mercury.
He also says it is also time Namibia mainstream the objectives of the Minamata Convention into the national development strategies and close loopholes in the country’s policies.
On 13 July this year, Parliament approved Namibia’s accession to the Minamata Convention; whereby on 6 September, Namibia deposited such instruments at the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
The Minamata Convention on Mercury aims to protect the environment and human health from mercury pollution.
He said mercury is an important chemical in the manufacturing sector, but the same chemical has raised serious health and environmental concerns globally.
Historically, the Minamata Convention on Mercury grew from concern about mercury poisoning of fish species within the Minamata Bay, Japan.
Mercury, as a chemical, is globally considered to be one of the major causes of brain damage, especially in children.
The name of the Convention “Minamata” is derived from Minamata Bay in Japan, which came as a result of scientific studies on the cause of strange mental health disease among fishermen and their families who consumed mercury-polluted fish from Minamata Bay.
These studies showed also that the source of contamination was a mercury-processing factory, which had continuously released mercury waste column into Minamata Bay.
In 2001, the Governing Council of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), requested the United Nations Executive Director of UNEP to undertake a global assessment of mercury and its compounds, including information on the chemistry, human health effects, sources, long-range transport, prevention, and control technologies relating to mercury.
In 2003, the Governing Council considered the UNEP Executive Director’s work regarding the global assessment of mercury and decided to establish the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee with the mandate to negotiate the creation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury.
“It is important to mention that my country, Namibia, actively participated in the negotiations of the Minamata Convention. We were also present and active in the negotiation process when the final text of the Convention was opened for signature in Kumamato, Japan, in October 2013,” he said.
Shifeta, who was in Geneva, Switzerland, last week for the first meeting of the Minamata Convention on Mercury COP1, said Namibia participated in all the negotiations and drafting of the Minamata Mercury Convention.
He revealed that Namibia, in collaboration with the Africa Institute for Environmentally Sound Management of Hazardous Waste and their Disposal, is conducting a national mercury assessment.
In 2014, Shifeta said Namibia organised a national stakeholder consultative workshop on matters concerning mercury as part of the National Development Plan under the Stockholm Convention.
In March 2015, he stated, Namibia participated in the sub-regional UNEP workshop for African countries to expedite the ratification and early implementation of the Minamata Convention on Mercury in Nairobi, Kenya. In the same year, Namibia took part in the UNEP Toolkit 2 Workshop for mercury assessment in Pretoria, South Africa.
Recently, in July this year, Namibia took part in the preparatory regional African workshop towards this Conference in Johannesburg, South Africa.
“I am highlighting these developments to basically indicate to our global partners gathered here that my country, Namibia, is not a stranger to the process which established the Minamata Convention. I am convinced that this conference is just the beginning of the implementation of the Minamata Convention to make mercury history,” he noted.
He encouraged governments, the private sector, civil societies, and individual experts, to strengthen their cooperation and make mercury a true historical story they can share with both current and future generations.