Kuwait has signed a landmark United Nations treaty to control the use and trade of mercury to prevent health damage and environmental pollution caused by the highly toxic metal.
Kuwaiti Ambassador to Japan Abdulrahman Al-Otaibi signed the "Minamata Convention on Mercury" on behalf of the Kuwaiti government late Thursday, which was unanimously adopted at an international conference organized by the UN Environment Program (UNDP).
Delegates from some 140 countries and territories gathering in the three-day conference through Friday in Kumamoto Prefecture, southern Japan. The treaty was named after the Japanese city where Japan's worst industrial poisoning occurred in the 1950s and caused serious health damage among tens of thousands of people by consuming fish and shellfish in waters polluted by discharge from a chemical factory. About 2,000 died from the so-called Minamata disease.
"The Minamata Convention is a very important step in the prevention of mercury damage," Al-Otaibi told Kuwait News Agency (KUNA), welcoming Kuwait's signing of the world's first legally binding treaty on mercury.
Mercury is a highly toxic substance, which can cause brain damage, intellectual disabilities, birth defects and death.
Under the treaty, all mercury mining will be prohibited within 15 years after the convention takes effect. It will also ban manufacturing, exports and imports of products containing the metal by 2020.
The pact will take effect 90 days after ratification by 50 nations. "The people have taken a stand to reduce the risks of mercury to the fullest extent possible. We will work hard so that many countries ratify the pact soon," Japanese Environment Minister Nobuteru Ishihara, who chaired the conference, said after the treaty was adopted.
"We urge all nations to ratify the pact," Ishihara said. The treaty is expected to be put into effect in 2016 at the earliest, according to the UNEP.