by Emmanuel Kocou
People in one of Africa’s poorest countries are recovering from being flooded with toxic waste. The recent emergency in Ivory Coast has highlighted the way companies and governments dump waste in the Third World to evade controls and save money.
The scandal began with the arrival in Abidjan, Ivory Coast’s largest city, of a ship chartered by the Dutch company Trafigura Beheer BV. It unloaded 500 tonnes of petrochemical waste into a number of trucks which then dumped it at 15 or more sites around Abidjan.
The UN news service reports that the waste contained a mixture of petroleum distillates, hydrogen sulphide, mercaptans, phenolic compounds and sodium hydroxide.
A few days later, thousands of people started complaining of ill health and seeking medical help.
Symptoms have included nosebleeds, nausea and vomiting, headaches, and skin and eye irritations as well as respiratory distress, dehydration and intestinal bleeding.
More than eight deaths have been attributed to the waste.
Ivorian emergency medical officials said more than 74,000 people have gone to hospitals and clinics for evaluation.
The government then resigned—although all ministers were reappointed to the same posts, except for the ministers of transport and environment.
Such scandals are far from uncommon. Throughout the 1980s, African regimes allowed themselves to become European companies’ most popular dumping ground.
In 1987, an Italian ship dumped waste on Koko Beach, Nigeria. Workers who came into contact with it suffered from burns and partial paralysis, and began to vomit blood.
Thereafter, the UN drew up plans to regulate the trade in hazardous waste through the Basel Convention.
By 1998, the European Union had agreed to implement the ban, which prohibited the export of hazardous wastes from developed countries to the developing world, but the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand refused to sign up.
In any case, the laws are often flouted. Inspections of 18 European ports in 2005 found that 47 percent of all waste destined for export was illegal.
The December 2004 tsunami resulted in massive quantities of toxic waste washed on to the shores of Somalia. It was presumed that these illegal toxic waste products, which had been buried in the Indian Ocean for some time, largely came from Europe.
In Europe the disposal of one tonne of toxic waste will cost over US$1,000, but the same operation in Africa will cost no more than US$8.