The visiting PhD students from the University of Nairobi together with their hosts from the FRAM Centre. From left: Susan Yara, Lena Gipperth, Daniel Slunge, and Hadijah Yahyah.
Photo: Lena Gippert

Improving environmental law in East-Africa

There is much to learn on chemical risk assessment and management from research on environmental law in relation to pesticide use and the increasing risks of zoonotic diseases. A recent visit to Gothenburg by two PhD students from the University of Nairobi enabled the exchange of knowledge with researchers in the FRAM Centre.

Starting in 2020, FRAM initiated a multi-disciplinary case study in Lake Victoria and its Kenyan tributaries. The research collaboration with the Faculty of Law at the University of Nairobi has enabled two PhD students to visit the FRAM Centre in Gothenburg.

Susan Yara arrived in August and Hadijah Yahyah, originally from Uganda, arrived in October. FRAM researchers Lena Gipperth from the Faculty of Law and Daniel Slunge from the Environment for Development have been their hosts.

Before heading back home, Hadijah and Susan held a final presentation about their research on environmental law in relation to pesticide use and the increasing risks of zoonotic diseases.

Toxic pollution from farm-level use of pesticides

Hadijah Yahyah is a PhD student who is involved the FRAM Kenya study. In her research, Hadijah is assessing the environmental sustainability implications of farm-level persistent organic pollutant pesticide use in Uganda.

“. I especially focus on the persistent organic pollutants (PoPs), also called forever living chemicals. These are characterized by accumulation and slow degradation, and they move very long distances. The pollution can occur far away from where they have been used”, says Hadijah.

There are three international governance instruments regarding this. One is the Stockholm convention from 2004 on persistent organic pollutants. Another is the Rotterdam convention which is about the sustainable use and international trade of certain hazardous chemicals. And finally, the Strategic Approach to International Chemicals Management (SAICM) is a global multi-sectoral and multi-stakeholder policy framework, not legally binding.

“There is also a national regulation in Uganda regarding the use of hazardous chemicals but generally, there has been an increase in the use of pesticides in Uganda. This is a big concern, not only for human health but also for the environment”, says Hadijah.

“Research shows that we can find these PoPs in the soil and in plants, and also in breastmilk. The continuous use of PoPs continues the pollution. My case study is looking at how this can be dealt with and how toxic pollution from farm-level use of POP pesticides can be mitigated in the Mukono district”, says Hidijah. Her goal is to come up with suggestions on how to improve the situation of chemical pollution in Uganda.

Minimizing the risk of zoonotic diseases

Susan Yara’s research is about eliminating disciplinary boundaries towards an effective integrated governance framework for the management of zoonotic diseases in Kenya.

“Yes, I am just getting started but I will be looking at zoonotic diseases, diseases that jump from animals to humans and vice versa. This is both linked to the triple-planetary crisis because of the ecosystem degradation and the international human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable development”, says Susan.

Zoonotic diseases do not only negatively affect public health, but they also affect the health of the ecosystem. Humans and wild animals often meet when people are in desperate need of food. In some parts of Africa, the pandemic causes great negative effects on the economy and people must go into the forests to hunt down wild animals for food. The wildlife trade is another example of when animal diseases can transfer to humans.

“For us to achieve our human right to a clean, healthy, and sustainable development, we need functional ecosystem services. Sustainable development should give us a green outcome but now we end up with a degraded and polluted environment. This only increases the interaction between humans and wild animals. Already now in Kenya, we have a lot of these diseases, e.g. anthrax, rift valley fever, and rabies.”

“My proposal will look at ecologically sustainable development and the legal concept”, says Susan. She wants environmental aspects to be put at the heart – first – of every decision. The social and economic aspects will have to come later. Her aim is that ecologically sustainable development can become a governance framework for zoonotic disease management.

When they now head back home to Nairobi, both Hadijah and Susan are longing for the sun. They have been struggling a bit with the Swedish autumn weather but they both say that they very much appreciate the opportunity to visit Gothenburg and the FRAM Centre.

“It has been very valuable to receive response, suggestions, and questions from the FRAM researchers”, says Hadijah and Susan.