Pesticide poisonings on farms around the globe have risen dramatically since the last global assessments made 30 years ago. About 385 million cases of acute pesticide poisonings happen annually worldwide, causing around 11,000 fatalities, a study by “BMC Public Health” has revealed.
The study published on December 7 in the peer-reviewed journal BMC Public Health titled, ‘The global distribution of acute unintentional pesticide poisoning: estimations based on a systematic review’, is the first global estimate since 1990.
The systematic review of unintentional acute pesticide poisonings was commissioned by Pesticide Action Network (PAN), a network of over 600 participating non-governmental organisations, individuals and institutions in over 90 countries working to replace the use of hazardous pesticides.
“Based on worldwide farming populations of approximately 860 million, this means that about 44 percent of farmers are poisoned by pesticides every year.”
“The greatest number of non-fatal poisoning cases was found in southern Asia, followed by south-eastern Asia and East Africa.
“The highest single national incidence was in Burkina Faso where nearly 84 per cent of farmers and farmworkers experience unintentional acute pesticide poisonings annually, ” the study said.
According to the study, in 1990, a task force of the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated that about one million unintentional pesticide poisonings occur annually, leading to approximately 20,000 deaths.
It was further estimated in 1990 that there were 25 million cases of mild intoxications each year, the bulk of which were not recorded as most farmers did not seek medical attention.
“It’s shocking and shameful that this problem has gotten worse rather than better over the past 30 years,” the executive director of PAN Asia Pacific, Sarojeni Rengam said.
“Pesticide poisonings are a public health crisis that must be addressed.
“Beyond the immediate suffering, poisonings can also reflect exposure that causes long term chronic health effects, ” he said.
“These findings underscore the urgency of reducing and eliminating the use of highly hazardous pesticides,” the coordinator of PAN international, Kristin Schafer, said in the report.
“These pesticides are causing the unacceptable poisoning of those who produce our food but also chronic health effects, such as cancer and ecological impacts such as the collapse of biodiversity.
“Time for global action is long overdue,” he added.
The study said according to the data from FAOSTAT, “so many more farmers and workers are likely to be exposed to pesticides now globally or more exposed through more frequent use.”
It said under-reporting is an issue for pesticide poisonings overall as many country-specific reporting systems lack a central point or lack a legal mechanism requiring incident reporting.
“We realize there are limitations in the data on pesticide poisonings,” the PAN Latin America coordinator, Javier Souza, said.
“But this study clearly shows this as a serious global problem that warrants immediate action.
“Highly hazardous pesticides must be phased out by 2030 to meet global sustainable development goals and we must shift to healthier and more resilient systems like agroecology,” he noted.
The authors in the study conclude that the heavy burden of non-fatal unintended pesticide poisonings, particularly for farmers and farmworkers, bring into focus the current policy bias towards focusing only on fatalities and the need to more seriously address the overall pesticide poisonings problem in international and national policies and regulations.