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Saturday, October 28, 2006

Is Africa the World's Septic Tank?

Sunday Tribune -- We talk of globalisation, of the global village, but here in Africa, we are under the impression of being that village's septic tank," says Senegalese ecologist Haidar al-Ali in Dakar.

Pollution scandals, ranging from the discharge of toxic waste in Ivory Coast to radioactive tanks in Somalia, show that Africa's poverty, corruption and non-existent or malfunctioning democracies make it the world's preferred dumping ground.

According to the French environment protection group, Robin des Bois, the waste sent to Africa - such as old tyres, cars and broken computers containing toxic parts - is "very difficult, if not impossible, to recycle".

"To Asia goes everything that can be salvaged and that is of high added value, such as copper wire and metal scraps," the group's director, Charlotte Nithart, said.

In Abidjan, Ivory Coast's economic capital, seven people died, 24 were hospitalised and there were 37 000 calls for medical help after an Ivorian firm, Tommy, dumped toxic waste at 11 public sites across the city in August.

The company had been hired to properly dispose of 500 tons of a highly toxic mixture of oil residue and caustic soda used to rinse out a Greek-owned ship's tanks. In the last days of 2004, the tsunami started by an earthquake in Asia hit the coast of Somalia, where it damaged toxic water containers on the northern coast.

Health problems were reported by the local population including "acute respiratory infections, dry heavy coughing and mouth bleeding, abdominal haemorrhages, unusual skin chemical reactions, and sudden death after inhaling toxic materials," according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Starting from the early 1980s and continuing into the civil war, the hazardous waste dumped along Somalia's coast includes radioactive uranium waste, lead, cadmium, mercury, industrial, hospital, chemical, leather treatment and other toxic waste, UNEP wrote in a country report.

In 1996, the European Parliament officially asked the governments of the United Kingdom, Italy and Spain to repatriate toxic waste exported to South Africa by Thor Chemicals.

The parliament noted that hundreds of tons of toxic mercury waste had caused damage to the environment and severe health problems among locals.

In the West African nation of Cameroon, about 5 600 litres of chlorine were dumped last year in a village near Douala, the economic capital. Authorities tried to dilute the chlorine at sea, but the operation turned disastrous when the mixture exploded, killing a soldier and injuring about 10 people.

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