Porous borders fuel influx of ozone-depleting substances
AN unprecedented influx of ozone-depleting substances (ODS) could see Zimbabwe miss the United Nations 2030 deadline to phase out the substances, despite being one of the first countries to ratify the 1987 Montreal Protocol, having done so in 1992.
The Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer (a protocol to the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer) is an international treaty designed to protect the ozone layer by phasing out the production of numerous substances that are responsible for ozone depletion.
The protocol was agreed on September 16, 1987 and entered into force on January 1, 1989, followed by a first meeting in Helsinki, 1989.
Since then, it has undergone eight revisions, in 1990 (London), 1991, (Nairobi), 1992 (Copenhagen), 1993 (Bangkok), 1995 (Vienna), 1997 (Montreal), 1998 (Australia), 1999 (Beijing) and 2007 (Montreal).
It remains the most ratified protocol in the world.
Government is currently struggling to control the ODS because of its porous borders.
The Zimbabwe Revenue Authority, which is in charge of the ports of entry, seems to be incapacitated to plug the loopholes resulting in the banned ODS flooding the country daily.
Ozone is a tri-atomic form of oxygen which has three oxygen atoms instead of the normal two and formed naturally in the upper levels of the earth’s atmosphere.
ODS are a cocktail of controlled products that contain or are designed to contain harmful substances such as chlorine, fluorine, bromine, carbon, and hydrogen in varying proportions and are often described by the general term halocarbons.
Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), carbon tetrachloride, and methyl chloroform are some of the manmade ozone-depleting gases that have been used in many applications including refrigeration, air conditioning, foam blowing, cleaning of electronic components, and as solvents.
These substances are effective ozone-depleters chiefly for two reasons: First, they do not break down in the lower atmosphere and can exist therein from between 20 to 120 years or even more.
Unlike most chemicals released into the atmosphere from the earth’s surface, ozone-depleting substances are not washed back to earth by rain or destroyed by other chemicals, which means they drift up into the stratosphere.
Second, they contain either/both chlorine and/or bromine and thus help the natural reactions that destroy ozone.
Once they reach the stratosphere, ultraviolet radiation breaks up these molecules into chlorine or bromine which, in turn, wrecks the ozone layer (O3), which absorbs the sun’s biologically harmful ultraviolet radiation.
Ozone depletion causes skin cancers, eye cataracts, partial and permanent blindness, damage to terrestrial plant life, leading to low crop yields and forest decline as well as damage to single cell organisms and aquatic ecosystems.
The UN initially set the deadline to phase out ODS for 2040 for developing countries and 2030 for developed countries but it has cut it further by 10 more years amid projections that the ozone layer can only heal around 2070 and that is if all countries combine efforts to combat ozone depletion.
Already, the effects of this hazard are being felt, with New Zealand having reportedly lost three quarters of its ozone layer, making it one country with many incidences of skin cancers.
Zimbabwe does not manufacture any ODS, which means it gets them through importation.
Information at hand shows that ODS continue to flood the country despite stringent measures because the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority (ZIMRA) is currently overwhelmed by the dexterity of smugglers who use every trick in the book to pass through border posts.
Latest ZIMRA figures accessed by the Financial Gazette indicate that all border posts have been hit by ODS smuggling, with a few contrabands intercepted.
ZIMRA training officer–customs, Lameck Tatswareyi, said ODS were rampant despite the fact that all border posts have identifiers.
He said smugglers achieve this through such means as mislabeling, diverting ODS (also known as false exports) and substituting seals.
Smugglers, he said, were also using undesignated crossing points.
Documents show that at Beitbridge in 2013 ZIMRA seized 100 contrabands which had been declared ODS-free although being contaminated with ODS such as R22 gas, R134a gas and other assorted gasses. The yet to be released 2014 figures are expected to be even higher.
Forbes boarder post accounted for the highest figures at 220 held contrabands, mainly refrigerant gases seized from unlicensed importers.
On two occasions alone, documents show, ZIMRA officials seized 220×13,6kgs gas cylinders containing 99,9 percent R22 and 404 cylinders also containing 99,9 percent R22.
The consignments were being smuggled by a Harare based unlicensed importer.
While figures for other border posts were not immediately available, Tatswareyi said Nyamapanda had also become a major entry point for smugglers who even use the landmine infested borderline between Zimbabwe and Mozambique.
“It is becoming increasingly difficult for us to contain the situation. Methods of smuggling change every day and also change with the quantity of the substance being smuggled,” Tastwareyi said.
“What further complicates the situation for us is the fact that we need to balance between control and facilitation. If we are going to out every vehicle through a scanner, it will bring the ports to a standstill,” he said.
He said smugglers were also producing counterfeit ZIMRA seals to avoid detection, adding that at one point, one person was caught with eight such seals.
He admitted that corrupt ZIMRA officials have been complicit in the smuggling of ODS.
Ozone project manager in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, being run in conjunction with the UN Environment Programme, George Chaumba, said government relies solely on ZIMRA to control the influx of ODS.
Government, he said has the responsibility to control the use of ODS inside the country.
“Since we do not produce ODS in the country, we rely on ZIMRA but the law empowers us to control the use of ODS and ODS equipment within the country. For example, the Grain Marketing Board has been able to phase out menthyl bromide in fumigating grain, completely substituting it with aluminium phosphide which is non-ODS,” he said.
“We are also working with organisations such as the Tobacco Research Board and the Zimbabwe Refrigerators Regulatory Authority to phase out the use of ODS so as to starve the feeding market,” he added.
As the world commemorates the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer, on September 16, critics feel it is time to speed up efforts to fight ODS.