E-waste threat to Africa’s health, climate

By Issa Sikiti da Silva, in Dakar, Senegal

Every day, thousands of tons of disused mobile phones, old computers, copying machines, printers, cables, TV and radios, and other electronic stuff and ICT stuff are dumped in open sites across Africa’s cities.

Scavengers then pick them up to either resell as it is or fix to sell in the second-hand market, unaware of the threat posed by this electronic waste to their environment.

The stock that is not directly dumped is sometimes incinerated, sending plumes of smoke in the skies and spreading the love of fumes all around the area, which will be inhaled by children and adults alike.

The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says every year between 20 and 50 million tons of e-waste are generated worldwide, and a large part of this is exported to China for recycling. The BBC Panorama programme also estimates that 100 000 tons of this huge amount is exported from UK shores.

Townships of Dakar in Senegal are full of ‘shops’ where one can buy second-hand electrical or electronic equipment at a ‘democratic’ price, and one does not need to know how it got there.

As the sun rises, trucks unload huge quantities of obsolete electronic equipment that the ‘technicians’ will repair and sell to their loyal customers.

“It’s better to buy here than buy at those shops out there that are full of new equipment, which is just another Chinese cheap quality. Here, these guys sell you second-hand but original stuff directly from Europe,” Aissatou Kone tells Biztechafrica, carrying a HP desktop computer well wrapped in a white plastic bag that she just bought.

At the shop where she bought it, the technician-turned businessman, Amadou Sarr, would not disclose the source of his stock, but a look at the old stuff scattered all over the place tells a love story of the man with e-waste.

In a study published last year in its Environmental Research Letters journal, the Institute of Physics (IOP) said: “In addition to its damaging effect on the environment and its illegal smuggling into developing countries, researchers have linked e-waste to adverse effects on human health, such as inflammation and oxidative stress – precursors to cardiovascular disease, DNA damage and possibly cancer.”

The Global Information Society Watch says in its Carbon Footprint of ICTs page: “In many countries, disused mobile phones, old computer and other electronic junk are discarded into existing general dump sites for domestic waste, where they are liable to be incinerated alongside other solid waste materials.

“The resulting carcinogenic gas will add to the alchemy of harmful gases, contributing to climate change.”


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