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Switch to Unleaded Petrol "In Sight" for Africa


Voluntary Initiative, Born Out of WSSD, Set to Deliver Major Health and Environmental Benefits to Continent’s 800 Million Citizens

UNEP’s Governing Council 3 to 7 February: Environment for Development

An international effort to phase out lead, the health-hazardous heavy metal, from petrol is accelerating as increasing numbers of African countries switch to unleaded fuel.

Research, to be presented to environment ministers attending a key conference organized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), indicates that within five years most African countries will have phased out, or be close to phasing out, lead from petrol.

A survey carried out by UNEP, which is a leading member of the global Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, shows that four countries- Egypt, Libya, Mauritius and the Sudan- are already fully lead free. This year four other nations or dependent territories, Morocco, Reunion, Tunisia and Western Sahara will join them.

Meanwhile, a further 22 including Eritrea, Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Togo and Uganda have or are in the process of drawing up action plans to phase out leaded by 2005-2006 the research indicates.

Plans are under way to bring the remaining countries on board, many of whom are in Central Africa, in order to deliver the goal of a lead-free Continent and a lead free world.

Klaus Toepfer, UNEP’s Executive Director, said: “ It has been known for many years that lead in petrol or gasoline is a serious health risk particularly to children. Studies have demonstrated that children living near roads and in urban areas where leaded petrol is used, can suffer brain damage with symptoms including lower intelligence scores. This is why it has been phased out and banned in countries in Western Europe, North America, parts of the Far East and elsewhere and why it is being rapidly phased out in many other parts of the world”.

“But much of Africa, mainly for technological reasons, a lack of awareness of the health risks and misconceptions about the impact of unleaded fuels on the engines, has lagged behind. However, partly because of work already under way and the new impetus from the global Partnership for Clean Fuels and Vehicles, the situation is rapidly changing and a lead free Africa is in sight. Lead is not the only pollutant they are targeting. Others include sulphur, which is linked with effects including smog and the acidification of waterways,” he said.

“This is one, if not the, first concrete outcome of the World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD) held six months ago in Johannesburg, South Africa. The voluntary initiative, a so-called Type II project, was born there with funding and support from Governments, the private sector including the oil and automobile industries, civil society and international organizations like UNEP. Let us hope that the success being achieved, bodes well for the other Type II voluntary partnerships in areas ranging from coral reefs to environmental law,” said Mr Toepfer.

He announced today that, as a small but symbolic push toward the lead-free goal, the on-site filling station at the United Nations headquarters in Kenya, which currently sells both leaded and unleaded petrol, will in future only sell unleaded fuel.

Rob De Jong, UNEP’s programme officer for urban environment, said there were a lot of motoring myths about leaded versus unleaded fuels which was making some vehicle owners reluctant to use the cleaner fuel.

“Many people who drive older cars are convinced that they will suffer engine damage if they fill up with unleaded fuel. But this really is not the case. Only under the extreme conditions of a laboratory test can effects be seen. In the real world, under normal motoring conditions prevailing in Africa, unleaded petrol works well if not better in most if not all vehicles. Unleaded petrol also allows motorists to drive vehicles with catalytic converters. This is another key health and environmental reason for using the cleaner fuels as they can reduce emissions by 90 per cent,’ he said.

The WSSD and its Plan of Implementation has targets and timetables for a wide range of sustainable development issues. In respect of leaded petrol, it calls for the rapid, global phase out, of this key pollutant. The work is also being guided by the Dakar Declaration of March 2002 in which countries backed a phase out of lead in petrol by 2005.

Nearly $500,000 has been pledged by partners for this. UNEP is acting as a “clearing house”, through which the various partners will be gathering and exchanging information on key issues including the status of phase-outs in developing countries.

UNEP will also be assisting in developing and implementing action plans, organizing workshops to help countries phase out lead in petrol as well as promote cleaner fuels and vehicles in general, bring in new partners and develop and distribute fact packs and other information materials to assist countries in informing consumers on the argument in favour of unleaded fuels.

Nick Nuttall | alfa

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