Africa As Western Dump-yard

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Officials in several African countries are working to calm public fear after the recent revelation that six people died in Cote d'Ivoire after a Holland-based firm dumped 600 tons of toxic waste in the West African country. More than 10, 000 others were poisoned.

There are fears that African countries are increasingly becoming the dustbins of the world's hazardous waste. The Cote d'Ivoire has forced the country's prime minister Charles Konan Banny to dissolve a nine-month transitional government. The dumping occurred in the commercial capital, Abidjan. The highly toxic waste was dumped at open-air garbage sites.  Seven Ivorians, including heads of three local companies –Puma Energie, Waibs and Tommy were arrested.

"It's a tragedy that our own people are being corrupted by rich multinationals into accepting this hazardous waste," a Harare-based biochemist told The Black Star. "They shouldn't have accepted it, but the lure of the greenback is too strong. The West is corrupting our people."

Environmental pressure groups said the dumped sludge was made up of oil refining waste, rich in organic matter and poisonous elements, which contained hydrogen sulfide and organochloride, which cause nausea, rashes, fainting, diarrhea and headaches. "We have lived through all kinds of problems in Ivory Coast," the country’s president, Laurent Gbagbo said, "but we have never known this kind of toxic waste in Abidjan."

The dumping of highly toxic waste by industrialized in Africa and other poor developing countries has been going on for years clandestinely and in some cases in more subtly forms with rich nations tying financial aid with their demands to dump toxic waste.

And, this evil reared its ugly head in Abidjan raising moral and legal questions over the way some industrialized nations in North America and Europe were dumping hazardous waste in Africa. Environmental activists say most industrialized countries deliberately negotiate hazardous waste disposal contracts with countries at war such as Cote d'Ivoire and others such as Somalia where governments are factionalized.

These countries violate the Basel Convention on Trans-boundary Movement of Hazardous Waste. Moreover, millions of used computers, televisions and other electronic gadgets are being dumped in Africa daily in a continent that still lacks the capacity to handle this kind of waste.

There is a sorry sight of enormous piles of junked electronics in environmentally sensitive wetlands, dams and other water sources, forests and open lands, along roadsides and uncontrolled burning in uncontained landfills that are routinely set ablaze to reduce the bulk. The United Nation Environmental Program estimates that 20 million to 50 million tons of electronic junk are discarded each year and less than 10 percent of the discards get recycled.

In some extreme situations in some parts of West Africa, they say, water has become so polluted that it has to be trucked in from elsewhere for people. Africa countries lack the capacity to closely monitor the activities of waste management agents, repositories for waste, and are unable to commit huge resources for waste treatment.

Industrialized nations, too running away from harsh environmental laws in their own backyard as European laws covering electrical and electronic goods are insisting that scrap be recycled and barred from being burned in incinerators. These countries are now looking beyond their regional and national boundaries.

Tsiko is The Black Star News' Southern Africa correspondent based in Harare, Zimbabwe.

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