‘VS's fast quickened global endosulfan ban'

Meriel Watts may be unknown to the people of the endosulfan-hit villages of Kasaragod, but the campaign the New Zealander had run on their behalf for getting the highly toxic pesticide banned globally is familiar to anti-pesticide activists worldwide.

Ms. Watts and the organisation she is part of—Pesticides Action Network (PAN) International—played a big role in getting endosulfan added to the Stockholm Convention's list of banned substances in April last.

“The ban was a historic one,” she told The Hindu . “It came after two decades of campaign by several organisations and NGO groups worldwide.”

The campaigners effectively used the images of bloated heads, stunted bodies and disfigured features of children from the Kasaragod villages, where endosufan had been aerially sprayed on cashew plantations for years, to drive home their point.

But, Ms. Watts, a scientist and author, recalls with gratitude the dramatic effect of the then Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan's fast had on the crucial meeting of Stockholm Convention, which was considering a global ban on endosulfan. The fast at Thiruvananthapuram pressing for a ban was effectively communicated to the meeting held in Geneva by podcasters, internet-based campaigners and NGOs, and had given a boost to the cause.

Indian position

She noted that the Indian government had been stonewalling a ban for long. “When the session opened, the Indian delegation was stoutly opposing the ban, but after the Chief Minister's fast, they had to reverse the stand.” At the end of the week, the conference of the parties to the Stockholm Convention, decided to globally ban the use and manufacture of endosulfan, with the Indian delegation supporting the move.

Last week, Ms. Watts, visited the Kasaragod villages, whose cause she had espoused at international forums, for the first time. “It's shocking,” she said referring to the condition of the victims. “They are the only community in the world which has been the victims of a single pesticide chemical.” In other, innumerable, cases of pesticide contamination, there were more than one chemical involved and it was pretty hard to pinpoint which one caused which.

In Kochi on Monday, Ms. Watts visited Eloor, one of the global hotspots of chemical contamination, and visited the Kuzhikandam canal, the cesspool of hazardous chemical effluents.

“Horrible and shocking,” she said.

Ms. Watts, who earned her Ph.D. from the University of Auckland, New Zealand , for her work on ‘Ethical pesticide policy' spent three years researching to identify what synthetic chemicals contributed to breast cancer. The outcome was a book ‘Pesticides and Breast Cancer: A Wake-up Call.' The book points out that breast cancer is mostly linked to exposure to contaminants, lifestyle and diet. A huge number of synthetic chemicals in the environment are directly linked to cancer.

Satisfied that the anti-endosulfan drive ended in success, Ms. Watts, who is now senior science adviser to PAN, says there are several other persistent organic pollutants that should be banned too.

But, the chemical industry is powerfully linked to governments and hence the fight to get the pollutants thrown out is not an easy one.