Discovered about 4,000 years ago, asbestos became widely used by the end of the 19th century in buildings and machinery as an insulation material. Its affordability and useful physical properties, such as sound insulation and resistance to fire, heat and electricity, led to its prevalent use as a construction material all around the world.
In the late 20th century it was discovered that inhaling asbestos dust causes serious pulmonary diseases and cancer. Many countries, therefore, began phasing out its use as well as removing it from existing structures.
In The Gambia, asbestos is still prevalent and continues to contaminate older private and public buildings, including schools. The governments of both The Gambia and neighboring Senegal have made efforts to remove asbestos from public buildings. However, these well-intentioned actions have also fueled the cross-border movement of asbestos into both countries. As a result, many Gambians remain at risk of exposure, particularly women and children since they are usually in close proximity to buildings contaminated by asbestos on a daily basis, and through the physical handling of asbestos.
A project entitled ”Institutional Capacity building for the implementation of the Multilateral Environment Agreements in The Gambia”, funded by the Special Programme on Institutional Strengthening, was launched in May 2018 to facilitate the implementation of measures to address the establishment of policies that address the management of asbestos and its removal.
To achieve the project’s goals, the Gambian Government plans to conduct a nationwide inventory exercise to locate, map and characterize all sites where asbestos can be found. The data collected will be used to develop a national policy and legislation on asbestos in order to ensure the protection of human health and the environment. The project also focuses on awareness raising and training of relevant stakeholders, including politicians, security forces, women and vulnerable communities along both sides of the border, on the dangers of asbestos contamination.
The project is scheduled for completion in early 2020 and it is expected that achieving the project’s objectives will contribute to the fulfilment of The Gambia’s obligations towards Multilateral Environment Agreements, such as the Basel and Rotterdam Conventions and the Minamata Conventions which The Gambia is a party to, as well as enhancing and protecting its environment and health of Gambians.