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Tearfund warns of flood risk for ‘more than 200 million’ — all thanks to plastic

24 May 2023

Tom Price/BinTwinning

Plastic pollution in the river Congo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo

Plastic pollution in the river Congo, in the Democratic Republic of Congo

MORE than 200 million of the world’s poorest people are under threat from devastating flooding caused by plastic waste, according to report released on Wednesday.

Not only does plastic waste block waterways and drains at a time when climate change makes rainfall more intense, but it can also can lead to severe health problems such as cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases, says the investigation.

The report was produced by Resource Futures for the Christian relief and development agency, Tearfund, which will be presenting its findings at the UN Plastic Pollution Treaty negotiations, in Paris, which begin next Monday.

Tearfund’s senior economist and policy associate, Rich Gower, said: “Around the world, from Brazil to the Democratic Republic of Congo, from Malawi to Bangladesh, we see plastic pollution making floods worse. As this report shows, at present, it is the poorest communities who are bearing the brunt of the plastics crisis.

“Through the plastics treaty, world leaders have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to end this crisis by driving down plastic production and making sure the rest is safely collected and recycled. Without decisive action, this problem is only going to get worse.”

The report found that approximately 218 million people worldwide are at risk of plastic-aggravated flooding, of whom 41 million are young children, older people, and people with disabilities, who are at even greater risk of health problems.

A Tearfund partner and campaigner, Tiwonge Mzumara-Gawa, from Malawi, who will be at the negotiations in Paris, said: “In Malawi, we don’t have an organised public waste-collection system; so people are forced to either dump or burn their waste, or pay. . . private collectors to dispose of it, if they can afford that. I hope that the treaty can have a life-changing impact on the lives of the poorest people directly impacted by plastic pollution.

“The epidemic of plastic waste was even more evident after Cyclone Freddy earlier this year, where drains and waterways became blocked with bags, bottles, and other waste as flood waters tried to recede. This at a time when my country was contending with a cholera outbreak with more than 50,000 cases.”

The proposed treaty — the first legally binding global agreement on plastic pollution — is regarded as the most important international environmental agreement since the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change.

A senior consultant at Resource Futures, Carla Worth Del Pino, added: “This report brings to light the truly global nature of plastic-aggravated flooding for the first time, with the health of millions of people at risk. Those living in urban slums are most vulnerable, where waste collection is rare, the drainage infrastructure is already poor, and plastic use is increasing.”

Tearfund is campaigning for four principles to be included in the treaty: legally binding targets to reduce plastic production and scale up reuse solutions; universal access to waste collection and recycling; support for waste pickers; and mechanisms to ensure that businesses and governments take action.

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