Pakistan: Disposal for Third Parties
Pakistan: A high-risk store is
situated right in the middle of Lahores Old Town.
Since 1980 huge quantities of pesticides have been accumulating
in Pakistan. By now, that Southern Asian country has amassed one of the
worlds largest stockpiles of obsolete pesticides. The process of
accumulation began when the government halted its prior policy: suddenly, except
in Baluchistan, no more free aerial spraying of pesticides was to be provided,
i.e., the private sector was, as of immediately, on its own with regard to the
distribution of pesticides.
Due to that change in policy, the pesticides in stock in the
government-operated stores were no longer given to the farmers free of charge,
but instead stayed put. With increasing age, they became as
unsuitable for sale as for further use. No transition period was provided,
during which the existing stocks could have been used up.
According to an inventory based on lists drawn up in 1987, there
are an estimated 5,000 tons of pesticides, all told, at the countrys 700
storage sites. These stocks represent a broad range of formulations, mainly
insecticides belonging to the organochlorine and organophosphorus group of
compounds, in addition to dithiocarbamates. Due to some of the substances
high acute toxicity and lack of suitable storage conditions, people and the
environment in the vicinity of these storage sites are at jeopardy.
Consequently, several attempts have been made during the past decade to
alleviate the problem.
Following a limited survey, USAID and the government of Pakistan
took initial disposal action in 1987. The idea was to incinerate the pesticides
at a cement factory in the Punjab. Several pretrial runs were conducted, but
disagreements about safety and the environment led to the projects
In 1993 the government of the Punjab started another attempt to
dispose of the obsolete pesticides, this time by simply burying them in the
desert somewhere in the southern part of the country. However, public protest
forced the government to discontinue the scheme. The pesticides were returned to
the more than 100 storage sites whence they came, and where the entire bulk now
Then, in 1996, a new actor appeared on the scene in the form of
the Dutch embassy in Islamabad. Having heard about the dilemma, the Dutch
launched an initial survey, charging the GTZ Pesticide Disposal Project with its
In November 1997 a team of experts investigated 15 storage sites
in the provinces of Punjab, Sind and Baluchistan. They counted the stored
quantities and took samples for analysis at the GTZ laboratory in Germany. They
documented the condition of the stores and packages as a basis for risk
assessment and, hence, drafted a strategy for disposal of the pesticides.
Most of the store buildings were found to be in dilapidated
condition, with broken roofs and unsealed floors. The interiors of the store
buildings were found to be in such disarray that it was hardly possible to
determine the stored quantities with any degree of accuracy. Nowhere were the
pesticides stored in anywhere near the manner deemed necessary for highly toxic
chemicals; indeed, they obviously had simply been tossed into the buildings, as
indicated by the demolished packages, with leaks having contaminated the ground
to an as yet undetermined extent.
The worst and most dangerous of all the storage sites is the one
situated right in the middle of Lahores very densely populated Old Town.
Children in particular are constantly exposed to poisonous vapors and dust from
the pesticides. Some of the inspected stores contain large amounts of various
agents, including some highly toxic ones, all devoid of safeguards and freely
Pakistan: Classification of pesticide
stocks according to an inventory.
The completed inventory of those 15 stores showed a total of at
least 477 tons of obsolete pesticides, only 112 tons of which were still
traceable (to 23 different manufacturers). Nearly a third had been produced or
formulated in Pakistan. Thus, 16% of the overall quantity correlates to 21
A total of 150 samples were taken, representing 336 tons of
pesticides. Subsequent analysis revealed the presence of several hundred
different formulations in the stores, with more than 45 different active
ingredients. Most of the substances are insecticides. In addition to some
marginally hazardous products, there are also some highly toxic ones, including
a group of pesticides that have since been banned. Many of them are persistent
organic compounds, and some of them can be found on the PIC list.
To be sure, as bad as these results of stocktaking appear to be,
they can only convey a weak impression of the problems full dimension.
Note, for example, that the Punjab alone has more than 100 chemical storage
sites in addition to the 15 that were surveyed. But then, it is not just the
sheer volume that is frightening. The general condition of the storage sites, in
combination with an apparently somewhat carefree manner of dealing with such
extremely toxic agents, has created a highly risky situation. It is therefore
urgently necessary to take immediate measures for reducing the human health
It would not suffice to merely clear out these stores. Since the
other ones may well be in similarly bad condition, the breadth of activity will
have to be expanded. Of course, capacity bottlenecks could occur quickly,
considering the quantities involved.
How, then, to approach the problem? Naturally, the waste
material from the inspected stores in the Punjab could be taken out of the
country for disposal according to OECD standards. That, however, would probably
be so expensive as to exceed the available financial limits. In addition, this
approach would void the chance to help build up the countrys own
Thus, the best thing to do in any case, even if the most
hazardous stores were to be neutralized by exporting their contents, would be to
clear out the other ones with the aid of local labor. This would give the
Pakistani plant protectors a chance to learn how to handle such waste and, above
all, to set up and operate pesticide storage facilities in a future-oriented
Proceeding on this basis, one could even give concrete
consideration to the possibility of expanding the surveys and collecting
information about possible locations and facilities in Pakistan where disposal
could be effected. This would involve genuine development-policy elements: along
with the local disposal infrastructure, awareness of the problem would also grow
- as would a lot of know-how that would help the local authorities make progress