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New Initiative to Combat Toxic Threats

UNITED NATIONS, Jun 27 2012 (IPS) - Reducing the risks associated with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear (CBRN) threats is the goal of a new multi-country initiative known as the Centres of Excellence (CoE).

The United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI), representatives of the European Union and CBRN experts are launching a joint CoE, which seeks to improve policies and unite countries across the globe against CBRN risks.

In response to increasing concerns over criminal misuse of CBRN materials and the threat of industrial catastrophe among other risks, CoEs are being set up in Kenya, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan, United Arab Emirates, Georgia, Uzbekistan and the Philippines, and will draw on input from more than 60 countries around the world.

Currently, many countries would find themselves isolated in the event of a crisis. CoEs aim to develop partnerships between regions to share the risks of CBRN incidents and improve their capacity to protect civilian populations, explained Francesco Marelli, UNICRI CBRN programme manager.

Bruno Dupré, European Diplomatic Service policy coordinator for CBRN issues, explained that the regional secretariats being established in each region seek to mobilise local communities – the judiciary, police force, and military personnel – to develop and share knowledge on specific risks and threats.

Illicit nuclear trafficking

Amid growing global concern about the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs) the CoE initiative’s first two pilot projects are aimed at countering illicit nuclear trafficking and the threat of nuclear and radiological terrorism.

Since 1998, in the U.S. alone there have been more than 1,300 reported incidents of lost, stolen, or abandoned devices containing sealed radioactive sources, an average of about 250 per year, according to a January 2011 CBRN case study submitted to the European Union.

Project Geiger, a joint initiative between the international police organisation INTERPOL and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), with the aim of gathering comprehensive data on the illicit traffic in nuclear and radiological materials has also recorded more than 2,200 cases of trafficking, according to the study.

The CoE projects are aimed at mitigating the risk posed by illicit trafficking through capacity building in nuclear forensics in the Southeast Asia region. They incorporate issues such as the safe retrieval of nuclear material, measures to protect the public and management of the crime scene to allow for prosecution.

In response to questions regarding the threat of weapons of mass destruction in Syria spreading outside the country, Dupré emphasised that CoE was primarily a preventative initiative not to be confused with a permanent institution or crisis response organisation.

Whilst CoE seek to prevent crises through addressing structural issues – early warning and early assistance systems – coordinating a response to scattering weaponry in conflict situations in the Middle East and North Africa region was deemed beyond its mandate.

Toxic waste

With the threat of nuclear terrorism attracting the most widespread concerns, projects addressing other chemical, and biological concerns are slower to materialise.

The disposal of electronic waste (e-waste) has been made a priority in the Africa region, where toxic properties contained in electrical equipment, including laptops and mobile phones, present severe health hazards to those working daily to dispose of them.

CoE waste management projects in Africa are in the process of finding sponsors in order to develop the means to address e-waste issues. However, funds are lacking, according to Dupré.

A report titled “Recycling — from E-Waste to Resources,” launched Feb. 22, 2010 by the United Nations Environment Programm (UNEP), found that India, and China and countries across Latin America and Africa face the growing threat of hazardous e-waste mountains with serious consequences for the environment and public health.

The report found that countries like Senegal and Uganda can expect e-waste flows from PCs alone to increase four to eight-fold by 2020 and Kenya is estimated to generate 11,400 tonnes from refrigerators, 2,800 tonnes from televisions, 2,500 tonnes from personal computers, 500 tonnes from printers, and 150 tonnes from mobile phones.

Speaking on the subject of e-waste in Africa, Dupré told IPS, “It’s a huge issue because we don’t have enough money.”

“What we are trying to do is to find sponsors that will help us define procedures. We have a programme of waste management in Africa and we are really trying to get funds by encouraging international organisations to support waste management”

“(Waste management) is their priority much more than the issue of proliferation of terrorism,” he added.

The CoE initiative is designed to build on local assets in order that regional projects do not operate under the interests of any given donor. But it faces the challenge of securing funds to address multiple issues regardless of the attention they command on the international stage.


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