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02.02.2009 General News

The e-waste menace in Ghana – Living at the brinks


For Fataw and his friends making a living is a daily, but precarious activity. They are at the receiving end of the e-waste menace that is currently confronting Ghana.

25-year-old Fataw lives in one of Accra's slums, called “Sodom and Gommorrah”. He makes his daily living by searching for and selling scrap, just like all of his other friends including Baba, Mohammed and Yusif.

For these young people, survival is the only word they know, but they are managing to survive only at the brinks and as they they do, they are endangering their lives and that of others and Ghana's environment , without knowing they are doing so.

“As I do this, I am hoping to be able to save some money and return to school,” he said. Adding, “I have no one to support me right now and so I have to struggle.”

He struggles daily to look for scrap metal which he sells to dealers at the scrap yard at Agbogbloshie in Accra, Ghana's capital.

As these young people eke out a living picking every scrap they could find, e-waste entered the stream.

The Agbogbloshie scrap yard, has become Ghana's e-waste dumping ground. Fataw and his friends work in various levels of the trade processing electronics waste under unhygienic and unscientific ways in the yard.

When they can afford they purchase obsolete computers, then dismantle these using chisels, hammers and any metal tool they can find. As they do, in the open, without protective gear, particles and parts of the electronic gadgets fly about.

Fataw and his friends when they can't afford to purchase unusable computers from importers who sell these to the young men at GH¢4 per monitor, they offer their skills to others for a small fee.

Along the chain, are another group of much younger boys around the ages of 15-16 years who collect the wires and take them to the

burning site within the scrap yard. They burn the wires with naked fire in the open to extract the copper. And as they do, dark, pungent soot envelopes the sky and surroundings.

The need to survive by these young people appear to have been seized as an opportunity by the people a German TV producer referred to as “black sheep” in Europe who connive with some Ghanaians to export obsolete electronics items into Ghana. These activities have exposed Ghana's environment and citizens to danger, because of the dangerous chemicals that these items contain.

But sadly, the authorities in Ghana are not responding appropriately to the growing menace of e-waste dumping in Ghana.

In a recent interview I had with a former deputy Environment minister in Ghana, he said categorically that there is no dumping of e-waste in Ghana. Read story.

But my checks at the Tema Harbour show that hundreds of unusable electronics gadgets enter the country daily.

Meanwhile, a five member research team led by a member of the Flemish Parliament in Belgium is in the country to raise the red flag about container loads of e-waste that have arrived at the Tema Harbour.

Mr. Rudi Daems leader of the team, told the media last week that 13 containers suspected to be containing e-waste are docked at the harbour.

If the authorities fail to act swiftly and firmly on this information, just as they have failed to do in the past despite all the information available to them including the numerous articles I have written on the subject, Ghana would remain a choice destination for e-waste dumping and people like Fataw and his friends, whose only primary objective is to make a living from whatever scrap they could get, would unknowingly help through their activities, to distribute the cocktail of toxic chemicals these gadgets contain in the environment.

Meanwhile, in communications I have had with the Environment Agency of the UK, they told me they are investigating some recycling companies in the UK suspected of dumping e-waste into Ghana.