Agbogbloshie

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Low Income Ghanaians working in Agbogbloshie.

Agbogbloshie is a former wetland and suburb of Accra, Ghana known as a destination for locally generated used electronics from the City of Accra. It has been alleged to be at the center of a legal and illegal exportation network for the environmental dumping of electronic waste (e-waste) from industrialized nations. Basel Action Network, a small NGO based in Seattle, has referred to as a "digital dumping ground", where they allege millions of tons of e-waste are processed each year in Agbogbloshie.[1][2] However, repeated international studies have failed to confirm the allegations, which has been labelled an "e-waste hoax" by international reuse advocate WR3A. The most exhaustive study of the trade in used electronics, funded by UNEP and Basel Convention (Ghanaian E-Waste Assessment and Nigerian E-Waste Assessment) revealed that of 279 sea containers found in African ports, 91% of the material was reused.[3]

According to statistics from the World Bank, in large cities like Accra and Lagos the majority of households have owned television and computers for decades.[4] The UN Report "Where are WEEE in Africa" 2012 disclosed that the majority of used electronics found in African dumps had not in fact been recently imported as scrap, but was generated by these African cities.[5] The suburb of Accra covers approximately four acres and is situated on the banks of the Korle Lagoon, northwest of Accra's Central Business District.[6][7] Roughly 40,000 Ghanaians inhabit the area, most of whom are migrants from rural areas.[1][6] Due to its harsh living conditions and rampant crime, the area is nicknamed "Sodom and Gomorrah".[8]

The Basel Convention prevents the transfrontier shipment of hazardous waste from developed to less developed countries. However, the Convention specifically allows export for reuse and repair under Annex Ix, B1110. While numerous international press reports have made reference to allegations that the majority of exports to Ghana are dumped, research by the US International Trade Commission found little evidence of unprocessed junk being shipped to Africa,[9] a finding corroborated by the UN Environmental Programme, MIT, Memorial University, Arizona State University, and other research.[10] In 2013, the original source of the allegation blaming foreign dumping for the material found in Agbogbloshie recanted, or rather stated it had never made the claim.[11]

Whether domestically generated by residents of Ghana or imported, concern remains over methods of waste processing - especially burning - which emit toxic chemicals into the air, land and water. Exposure is especially hazardous to children, as these toxins are known to inhibit the development of the reproductive system, the nervous system, and especially the brain. Concerns about human health and the environment of Agbogbloshie continue to be raised as the area remains heavily polluted.[6][12][13] In the 2000s, the Ghanaian government, with new funding and loans, implemented the Korle Lagoon Ecological Restoration Project (KLERP), an environmental remediation and restoration project that will address the pollution problem by dredging the lagoon and Odaw canal to improve drainage and flooding into the ocean.

Background[edit]

Korle Lagoon, Accra.

Before the arrival of electronic waste from the City of Accra, the slum area of Agbogbloshie was a wetland, referred to as Old Fadama or Ayaalolo.[1][2] During the 1980s, it was a place of shelter for refugees from the Kokomba and the Nanumba war.[2] It was not until the late 1990s that the landscape began to shift.[1] Functional second-hand computers began arriving from the West to help ‘bridge the digital divide’. Ghanaians welcomed these donations, because these computers cost 1/10th of a new one. However, because the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) lacks strong regulations on the export of “functional” second hand electronics, and because the Ghanaian government has virtually no enforceable regulations and guidelines on the importation of reusable second hand electronics, as much as 75 percent of these second hand electronics cannot be reused and end up in landfills.[1][14]

Economy[edit]

The local economy of Agbogbloshie is based on the electronic waste imports and the processing of these goods. "Hundreds of millions of tons of electronic waste are imported to the area each year.",[2] as claimed by several news sources, is an utterly ridiculous, preposterous claim. The United States is definitely not the leading exporter of e-waste to Ghana, although imports arrive from other countries such as the United Kingdom, Germany, Korea, Switzerland and the Netherlands.[12][14] Multinational brands such as Philips, Canon, Dell, Microsoft, Nokia, Siemens and Sony are commonly found throughout the waste.[12] According to the E-Waste Assessment Studies, "Refurbishing of EEE and the sales of used EEE is an important economic sector (e.g. Alaba market in Lagos). It is a well-organized and a dynamic sector that holds the potential for further industrial development. Indirectly, the sector has another important economic role, as it supplies low and middle income households with affordable ICT equipment and other EEE. In the view of the sector’s positive socio-economic performance, all policy measures aiming to improve e-waste management in Nigeria should refrain from undifferentiated banning of second-hand imports and refurbishing activities and strive for a co-operative approach by including the market and sector associations."[3]

Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are even found adding to the waste when excess electronics are donated in with the intention of helping scholarly institutions.[15] Exporters have found numerous loopholes to avoid legislation which prevent e-waste shipping, such as labeling broken electronics as ‘end-of-life’ or ‘second-hand-goods’, falsely identifying them as in working order.[12][15] Between 50% and 75% of the electronics imported are unable to be salvaged and remain on the land.[1][14]

Unprotected workers, mostly boys between 11–18 years old, process scrap electronics in search for metals, such as copper, aluminum and iron, to collect and sell.[12][14][16] To gain access to the metals, the workers burn old foam on top of the electronics in order to melt the plastic, or they dismantle the waste with their bare hands and stones.[14] Magnets from other rubbished electronics are then used to gather the smallest of metal scraps left behind in the process.[1] The remaining materials are further burned or dumped nearby.[12]

The workers, children and adults alike, sell the metal scraps to earn a living.[14] A half a sack of copper or aluminium will sell for about 700 Ghana Cedis, amounting to about eight to ten Ghana cedis per day (4 to 6 USD).[17]

Living conditions[edit]

The population of Agbogbloshie consists of economic migrants from northern and rural parts of Ghana. Living standards in the north and rural areas are growing worse, causing people to move to urban settings, such as Agbogbloshie. Conditions may not be significantly better, but making a living is easier.[6] Inhabitants of Agbogbloshie live, eat, work and relieve themselves on the land and amongst the waste.[2][6] Children who are able to attend school often spend every evening and weekend processing waste searching for metals.[18]

Dwellings are wooden shacks that lack water and sanitation.[7] The area is also home to armed robbers, prostitutes, drug dealers and others involved in underground markets. Crime and disease run rampant throughout Agbogbloshie, creating an almost uninhabitable environment for humans.[6] Outsiders have nicknamed the area “Sodom and Gomorrah,” after two condemned Biblical cities, due to the harsh living conditions in Agbogbloshie.[2]

Pollution[edit]

Pollution from the E-waste industry at Agbogbloshie is extensive.[12][13][16]

The processing and dumping of electronic waste in Agbogbloshie is polluting the area and creating serious environmental concern. E-waste contains toxic chemicals that are emitted into the ground, water and atmosphere when the electronics are broken down, burned and processed.[12][13][16] Poisons such as lead, mercury, arsenic, dioxins, furans, and brominated flame retardants seep into the surrounding soil and water, thereby seriously polluting the landscape. Greenpeace labs tests have shown the water and soil from areas in Agbogbloshie revealed the area contained concentrations of toxins at levels a hundred times more than the allowable amount.[13]

The Korle Lagoon, on which Agbogbloshie is situated, has extremely low levels of dissolved oxygen, as a result of the large and uncontrolled quantities of domestic and industrial waste being emitted into the water. Studies indicate that the entrance to the lagoon is severely polluted and not suitable for primary or secondary contact, due to the large amounts of bacteria present.[17]

Human health risks[edit]

Processing electronic waste presents a serious health threat to workers at Agbogbloshie. The fumes released from the burning of the plastics and metals used in electronics are composed of highly toxic chemicals and carcinogens.[12] Workers often inhale lead, cadmium, dioxins, furans, phthalates and brominated flame retardants.[15][16]

Exposure to these fumes is especially hazardous to children, as these toxins are known to inhibit the development of the reproductive system, the nervous system, and the brain in particular.[12] In similar e-waste processing areas, with conditions and demographics like those of Agbogbloshie, 80% of the children have dangerous levels of lead in their blood.[16] Inhabitants often suffer from chronic nausea, headaches, chest and respiratory problems.[15]

High levels of toxins have also been discovered in soil and food samples, as these chemicals stay in the food chain.[12][15]

Information security[edit]

E-waste presents a potential security threat to individuals and exporting countries. Hard drives that are not properly erased before the computer is disposed of can be reopened, exposing sensitive information. Credit card numbers, private financial data, account information and records of online transactions can be accessed by most willing individuals. Organized criminals in Ghana commonly search the drives for information to use in local scams.[2]

Government contracts have been discovered on hard drives found in Agbogbloshie. Multi-million dollar agreements from United States security institutions such as the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the Transportation Security Administration and Homeland Security have all resurfaced in Agbogbloshie.[2][19]

Restoration efforts[edit]

The Ghanaian government has made an effort to restore the area through the “Korle Lagoon Ecological Restoration Project” (KLERP). In 2003, the OPEC Fund for International Development, the Arab Bank for Economic Development in Africa, and the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development provided a loan for this project with the expectation that the Ghanaian government dredge the lagoon and restore its surroundings.[6][7] Other goals of the project include a reduction in flooding, an increase in marine life, an improvement of water quality and an improvement in general sanitary conditions.[20]

Due to the invasive nature of the project, these restoration efforts have been disputed by the inhabitants of Agbogbloshie. The KLERP requires the people to leave the area, which is the only home for a majority of squatters. The Accra Metropolitan Assembly (AMA) has continually tried to evict the people, but have only been met with much resistance. The matter is still in dispute.[6]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f g "Time up for Sodom and Gomorrah." Peace FM Online | Ghanaian News. 4 Sept. 2009. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Africa’s Agbogbloshie Market Is a Computer Graveyard" NewsBreakingOnline.com. Web. 20 Feb. 2011.
  3. ^ a b "e-Waste Country Assessment Nigeria". 
  4. ^ "World Development Indicators: The information society". 
  5. ^ "Basel Convention: Where are WEee in Africa?". 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Safo, Amos. "End of the Road for 'Sodom and Gomorrah' Squatters.". News From Africa. Retrieved 15 March 2011. 
  7. ^ a b c Afenah, Afia. "(Re)claiming Citizenship Rights in Accra, Ghana.". DPH. HIC (Habitat International Coalition). Retrieved 15 March 2011. 
  8. ^ Hugo, Pieter (July 24, 2011). "Ghana's e-Waste Dump Seeps Poison". Newsweek. 
  9. ^ "Used Electronic Products: An Examination of U.S. Exports". 
  10. ^ "Multiple Studies Show Used Electronics Exports To Third World Mostly Good". 
  11. ^ "Basel Action Network Explains the 80%, or 90%, 75% or 50% "Data"". 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Poisoning the Poor – Electronic Waste in Ghana | Greenpeace International." Inspiring Action for a Green and Peaceful Future | Greenpeace USA. 5 Aug. 2008. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.
  13. ^ a b c d Dogbevi, Emmanuel K. "E-waste in Ghana – How Many Children Are Dying from Lead Poisoning?" Ghana Business News. 7 June 2010. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.
  14. ^ a b c d e f Darko, Richmond. "Electronic Waste Dumping on Ghana Still Continues." GhanaWeb. 25 Aug. 2010. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.
  15. ^ a b c d e "European Electronic Waste in Ghana and Nigeria." Dan Watch. 25 Feb. 2008. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.
  16. ^ a b c d e Monbiot, George. "From Toxic Waste to Toxic Assets, the Same People Always Get Dumped on." Guardian.co.uk. 21 Sept. 2009. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.
  17. ^ a b Nuvor, Francisca. "Ghana: E-waste Becoming Business." AfricaNews.com. 28 Jan. 2011. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.
  18. ^ Claiborne, Ron. "E-Waste in Africa, U.S. Trash Is Ghana's Problem." ABC News. 2 Aug. 2009. Web. 20 Feb. 2011.
  19. ^ Doctorow, Cory. "Illegal E-waste Dumped in Ghana Includes Unencrypted Hard Drives Full of US Security Secrets." Boing Boing. 25 June 2009. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.
  20. ^ "Korle Lagoon Ecological Restoration Project." ADK Consortium. Web. 15 Mar. 2011.

Coordinates: 5°32′51″N 0°13′25″W / 5.54750°N 0.22361°W / 5.54750; -0.22361