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Thyolo villagers pen MHRC over chemical diseases

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By Feston Malekezo & Mabvuto Banda

CONTAMINATED WATER? —Women draw water from an open well

Villagers of Tayali in Traditional Authority Bvumbwe in Thyolo District have written Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) over fears of health rights violations due to improper handling of pesticides by an estate – Masawa of Eastern Produce Limited – a multinational company operating in their area.

The letter dated September 23 2018 (which The Sunday Times has seen) bears over 30 signatories from the village and calls for action from the commission.

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“We are deeply concerned and saddened by the violation of our right to good health as stipulated in the country’s Constitution….. We call for your immediate action to save our lives,” reads the letter in part.

The communities pin their accusations against the macadamia estate’s improper handling of pesticides.

A report released by Pesticides Control Board recently reveals that the company had in store banned and unregistered pesticides.

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Among others, the board’s investigative report established that the estate was using Chlordane which was deregistered and banned for use in Malawi since 2016.

The report, which was authored by Chief Pesticides Inspector, Rhodrick Ndawala, indicates that Chlordane “is rated as one of the most dangerous pesticides in the world which causes cancer and other serious health problems.

“We feel this has contributed to the mysterious health problems among us and even causing deaths to our beloved brothers and sisters,” reads the letter by the villagers in part.

Earlier random interviews The Sunday Times conducted in the village uncovered victims who claimed their health problems arose after they inhaled and got exposed to the mist of pesticides from the estate.

Fourteen-year-old Alinafe Vitto woke up blind on April 12 2014. She claims that on April 8 2014, as she was going to school, a mist of chemicals spewed on her face.

“When I passed through the estate, some mist of chemicals spewed on my face and I inhaled some. Eventually, I had a very strong headache. I came back home and I slept until my mother came in the late afternoon…”

Two days after the incident, she could not see anything.

“We went to Queen Elizabeth Central Hospital where we were told to our surprise that Alinafe has been blind for the past five years, when she became blind just the previous day,” her mother said.

Alinafe’s medical report dated April 12 2014 simply reads: “Got blind eyes… advised to see social welfare officer.”

Thirty-two-year old Lucius James who was a painter became lame – both legs. He said it all started in 2016 when one of his legs stopped functioning.

Another victim, Michael Zuze, became lame and could no longer report for duties due to his situation. He used to work for Masawa of Eastern Produce Limited before his predicament.

A medical report of 86-year-old Faclord Nayeja says he was diagnosed with chronic obstructive airways disease. This is a lifelong lung disease that has no cure. It blocks airflow and makes breathing difficult.

“My wife died of the same disease some years ago. I was asked if I smoke or I use chemicals to apply crops in my field. But I don’t do any of those, I am only a cattle farmer and I have never smoked,” he said.

These are some of the ailments which the communities have developed after being exposed to Chlordane.

In its letter to MHRC, the community claims it has tried to have dialogue with the estate management in the past one year.

“We have been taking several peaceful actions. We have been pleading with the estate management to come for negotiations in order to reach a consensus but to no avail. That is why we are requesting your office to look into the matter and take necessary action to help us,” says the letter.

Meanwhile, MHRC Director of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Harry Mikochi, said, as of Friday (September 28 2018), the commission had not yet received the complaint.

The Sunday Times has been running a series of stories on this issue since last month, but management of Masawa Eastern Produce Limited seems uninterested to say their side of the story. The estate’s General Manager, Chris Payne, has been hanging up on us on several occasions.

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