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Opinion | Jul 16, 2018

Foreign Oil Companies’ Pollution And Health Hazards In Africa

A victim of toxic waste dump in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, West Africa
A victim of toxic waste dump in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, West Africa

Foreign oil companies are polluting Africa. The storage capacity of rubbish landfills in many major European cities has reached its maximum some time ago and the disposal of many substances, including toxic waste, has been an issue of concern, thus; the only solution is to concentrate on Africa, a country paralyzed by corruption, in the midst of rich vast mineral resources.

Nine years ago, a ship named the Probo Koala unloaded toxic waste in over a dozen places in and around Ivory Coast's biggest city, Abidjan, resulting in the death of at least 15 people and tens of thousands were sickened, according to local authorities. To this day, many victims are still awaiting reparations.

Why things that are not possible in Europe or America are always possible in Africa? There is no way a ship from America can load a toxic waste and dump it in Europe or from Europe and dump it in America but it is possible in Africa. Is it because of Africa's weak security or the corrupt nature of many of its leaders?

In Africa, waste is unsorted and often dumped throughout the cities, town and rural areas. Over the past thirty years, the European countries and the United States used a large number of African countries as dumping ground for industrial and household waste. This with the knowledge and consent of the respective and most corrupt African governments and their Western counterparts.

Western countries want to reduce their costs of recycling their industrial byproducts as low as possible and the victims, as usual, are innocent citizens of the respective African countries. So many African countries are in the stranglehold of Western debt and poverty. Thus, they are attracted by the potential financial gains that the dumping of all kinds of waste entails.

In some cases, these profits exceed the gross domestic product of many African countries. However, the dumping of toxic waste brings serious environmental and health problems, which the Africans are insufficiently aware, or have inadequate resources, knowledge, and environmental legislation in order to solve these problems.

The need for hard currency and the greed of corrupt African politicians and businessmen, who want to earn a lot of money in a short time play a major role in the waste industry. For example, individuals and businessmen in Benin, Nigeria, South Africa, and Somalia, signed contracts to import waste at a fraction of the cost of recycling from the rich industrialized countries.

Both export and import countries were in violation of the international treaties it had ratified. For example, it appears that certain Western countries bad old ships for demolition are simply dumped in the territorial waters of a number of African countries. Several countries have complained about this criminal behavior.

"As a Dutch citizen, I am very much aware of the fact that the export of "dirty diesel and waste" to Africa is contrary to international treaties and this awareness reaches also a lot of well-educated Africans," says scientist Johan Van Dongen

"And as a medical investigative Dutch journalist and scientist, I know also that especially the Netherlands and Belgium have the oil companies that indulge in this criminal behavior despite Dutch Shell received an award from the Dutch government as top employer."

"Therefore, I appeal to the Dutch government to recognize the fact that there is something like an African governmental policy on waste management and prevention in most countries called: 'The National Waste Management Strategy.' So there is legislation as described in the 'National Environmental Management: Waste Acts' (2008 and 2009). I will also appeal to the Dutch government to raise a prize for their criminal behavior and deliberate pollution."

United Nations And Organization Of African States

In 1987, the United Nations adopted several resolutions and directives to control and improve the international transport of waste and ultimately solve the global waste problem. The Organization of African States (OAS) also adopted a resolution.

Particularly hazardous waste (chemical and toxic) are clandestinely shipped to the vast areas on the African continent. Africa remains attractive because of the low costs for the incineration of waste and the lack of local regulations regarding environmental legislation.

Dutch Minister Ploumen Called Export To Africa At Times "A Scandal"

On September 15, 2016, oil giants Trafigura, British Petrol BP, and Vitol became world news. They exported polluted fuels to the African continent. But the Dutch Minister Ploumen, from the Department of Foreign Trade and Development, apparently looked the other way to avoid prosecution of these companies because he is also aware of the how Dutch SHELL has polluted and damaged environments with an oil spill, especially in Nigeria.

According to a report by the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), commissioned by the Swiss Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO), the Trafigura, Vitol, and BP are exporting 'dirty diesel' to Africa. It was publicly known that traders export and blend cheap fuel with sulfur, many times high level to the European limit for sale in African countries.

One of these NGOs, Public Eye, published in September 2016, a controversial study on the Swiss oil companies Trafigura and Vitol. In the ports of Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Antwerp, they mixed diesel and gasoline with cheap and toxic components such as benzene and sulfur (particularly diesel). They do this to get rid of the waste and save on refining. Minister Ploumen are you there? Do the Dutch Government also receive an award for that criminal behaviour?

It wasn't only the Dutch and Belgium governments that export poison to the African continent. The whole European Union dumped waste of expired drugs, plastics, heavily contaminated fuels, asbestos by ships in Africa. Some of these wastes that are often dumped in African waters appear on the beaches.

The so-called United European countries deposit their unwanted materials mainly in West Africa, where less stringent environmental laws exist or are poorly maintained by corrupt businessmen and politicians. They earned enough money out of the misery of poor innocent Africans.

Yet, there are many Africans that can't afford medical bills. Many Africans die in hospitals like cockroaches because they have no money for the cure and if you'll notice how mining companies have excavated the continent, like what China has done then within a short period of time, the African continent is bound to face many health problems because of the corrupt leaders who not only sell Africa but also destroy the paradise.

Minister Ploumen of Export and Trade, calls these events of our time "a scandal," thus, avoiding justice for the Dutch politicians and other oil companies such as Trafigura and Vitol. According to European legislation, they haven't done anything wrong. Here the money is important than the health of those caught up in different health hazards and death.

But Dutch Company Shell, Trafigura, British Petrol and Vitol generate every year billions of profits. The CEO receives bonuses of tens of millions of Euros. Also, every year, the original Dutch company elects the most popular employer of the year. Minister Ploumen how stupid a person can be with these kinds of contradictions?

Dutch Shell Company
Millions of people worldwide are affected by pollution and climate change caused by Dutch Shell and their colleagues. The Niger Delta unfolds one of the largest oil spills ever around the River Niger Shell drilling for oil. For more than fifty years they leaked tens of millions of barrels of oil.

Near the town of Bodo leaking of a broken oil pipe lasted for 72 days before it was repaired. More than 49 million gallons of oil flowed into nature. The soil and water were polluted and agriculture and fisheries activities were no longer possible, while people meet enormous health problems.

Animals in the area, such as chimpanzees, leopards and elephants were exterminated. Minister Ploumen, how about an award for that? Shell claims that the oil industry is good for employment in Nigeria but only a small group of people benefiting from the oil profits. Would you allow the Netherlands to be polluted in such a way if any African government is drilling oil in Holland?

But the lawyers of CIEL and their expertise from Washington and Geneva dedicated to international environmental law dispute that. They think that Belgium, the Netherlands, and other oil companies are untouchable because business is more important than the health hazards threatening the common people.

The export of waste contaminated oil is a violation of the Basel Convention on waste exports (2005). This is something they should know but Minister Ploumen prefers to ignore it and remain silent.

Subsequently, export waste materials are prohibited under the 'Basel Convention.'.

In Africa, the latter is applicable, thought CIEL, referring to the agreement of Bamako (1991). An agreement under which most African countries prohibit the import of hazardous waste. Exports from Belgium and the Netherlands fuelled with a high sulfur content to these countries is a violation of the Basel Convention.

But violation or not Minister Ploumen sells and still repeats it as a scandal. Indeed, how stupid can you be? Exports of 'dirty diesel and waste' are also a violation of human rights. Netherlands and Belgium signed a UN treaty in which they committed themselves to work for the right to proper health but in regards to the health hazards in Africa, are they doing the right thing?

These provisions are no territorial restrictions, according to CIEL. Both countries, therefore, will fail if they leave the Trafigura and Vitol practices in Africa alone. Even though the fuels contain an average of over two hundred times more sulfur and benzene than permitted in Europe, they don't care about the health hazards in Africa.

Dutch Politicians
Bram van Liere, the content assistant of Dutch Environmental Defense, expects minister Ploumen to take action against the two oil companies. She said, "we will be so happy to get to work with the tools we provide now." However, in spring 2017, she will be no longer the Minister of Trade and Environment. Her hypocrisy is enough.

The fake anger of Ploumen was widely shared by the media. The parliamentary parties of PvdA, SP, Green Left and the Christian Union, wanted action against the toxic fuel expelled from the Dutch ports. But in practice, this is impossible according to the port authorities of Rotterdam, Amsterdam and of course, Antwerp, by the Belgian authorities.

European rules prohibit the mixing of waste with fuel, but the export of contaminated fuel is not formally prohibited. Above all, there is no clear evidence for the mixture of the high percentage of sulfur and benzene fuel, the Port Authority defended itself.

Every year about 100 million tons of plastic is produced, according to Greenpeace. The United Nations estimates that only 10 percent of waste in Africa ends up at the dump, the rest rot away on the street or burned in fires. In many African countries such as Kenya, Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria etc, there is public alarm against poor waste disposal.

Poor waste disposal has led to the blockage of drains, forming breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Even animals such as cows and goats reared for consumption are allowed to feed on contaminated refuse dumping grounds and drinking dangerous stinking stagnant waters. This is how diseases can possibly be transferred from animals to persons.

Targeted policies to address the problems are hard. An important and obvious point is that plastic waste in a responsible manner must be processed. The population in many African countries should be made aware of the dangers corrupt politicians have placed them but public information is very sparsely.

In Rwanda, there is a big difference in waste disposal among other African countries, since the government recognized the problem at an early stage. In 2004, they organized a national waste all day. Even the president helped with cleaning up plastic. Nowadays Kigali, capital of Rwanda, is one of the cleanest cities in Africa.

Another improvement is seen in Ethiopia. An Indian company built a factory where it is possible to generate fuel from plastic. The used technology ensures India already achieving a huge success in the reduction of plastic waste.

Most African countries are depending on the right waste refining to keep the environment clean because they have learned how to make plastic waste profitable. As for Minister Ploumen, who doesn't care about safety environments in Africa, after her retirement, perhaps she can start traveling to Rwanda, Ethiopia, and India to become educated in the processing of waste and oil refinement.

Joel Savage
Joel Savage, © 2018

Joel Savage is a Ghanaian-Belgian journalist and author. The accredited press-card holder of the Flemish Journalists Association once contributed regularly to the features column of the Daily Graphic, The Mirror, Ghanaian Times and the Weekly Spectator. The writer currently lives in Belgium.,

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