Uganda holds workshop on chemical threat and hazard

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Pius Bigirimana

Pius Bigirimana

The chemicals include both the industrial and weaponry substances.

Speaking on Friday during the closing of the five-day conference on chemical threat and hazard at Speke Resort Munyonyo, Pius Bigirimana, the Permanent Secretary in the in ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, said the subject of chemical weapons has not been known in Uganda.

?I pledge my technical commitment to ensure that this subject is well understood by those who must understand it. In the next two weeks, we want to sensitise the MPs so that they pass the Toxic Chemical Prohibition and Control Bill, 2015,? said Bigirimana.

Ananeas Tumukunde, a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) risk mitigation expert and permanent adviser to the CBRN Uganda team, said after sensitizing the MPs, they will move to industrialists and business people and later the general public.

Bigirimana, who is the chairperson of the National Authority charged with the implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), said whereas Uganda is a non-possessor state of chemical weapons, some of the chemicals used in industries could pose threat to the population if not managed well.

?Some of the chemicals that have potential threat include those used in petroleum industry to sweeten natural gas, separate and purify crude oil; pharmaceutical industries, cosmetics and detergents and other riot control agents; leather tanning and those used as flame retardant additive in the foam mattresses,? added Bigirimana.

Uganda ratified the CWC on November 30, 2001. The obligation of the states parties under the CWC is to prohibit the use and production of chemical weapons, as well as their destruction.

Bigirimana explained that although chemical weapons receive significantly less attention than nuclear and biological threats, the historical record shows they are, by far, the most widely used and proliferated weapons of mass destruction.

?The East African Community (EAC) sub-region and international community must therefore continue to work to prevent chemical weapons, and the technologies to produce them, from falling into the hands of terrorists,? added Bigirimana.

On Monday, during the opening ceremony, experts from the technical secretariat of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), urged EAC to domesticate the CWC.

?We wish to develop local expertise in emergency response for chemical incident and laboratory skills for the identification of chemical warfare agents. We also wish to assist states parties to comply with their obligations of national protection programmes and the domestication of the CWC,? said Oscar Meless, the project officer for assistance and protection branch of OPCW for EAC states.

The conference was attended by security and chemical experts from Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi with facilitators from the UK and the OPCW technical secretariat in The Hague, the Netherlands. It was organized by the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development in conjunction with OPCW, with funding from the UK.

It will be followed by another meeting this October in Nairobi where drafting of national and regional plans will commence.

By Alfred Wandera, The New Vision

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