Afrika needs to do more to address the dumping of hazardous waste, especially from the developed world, into the continent, a meeting has heard.

Participants at the 2nd Conference of Parties (COP-2) to the Bamako Convention agreed in Cote d’Ivoire last week (30 January to 1 February) that the continent has to be secured from being a dumping ground for toxic waste.

Negotiated in 1991, the Bamako Convention prohibits importation to Africa, its oceans and inland water bodies of toxic waste. It came into force in 1998 and the first conference of the Parties (COP-1) to the convention was held on 24-26 June 2013 in Bamako, Mali.

“We have a collective responsibility to safeguard communities from the environmental and health consequences of hazardous waste dumping.”Ibrahim Thiaw, United Nations Environment Programme

The convention has been ratified by 25 African countries: Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Libya, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Togo, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe.

Ibrahim Thiaw, the deputy executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme, told the COP-2 meeting that the Bamako Convention came into existence after multiple dumping of toxic waste incidents in Africa.

“A shocking case happened in 1998, when rich Italian businessmen shipped thousands of containers of toxic waste and dumped them in Koko village in Nigeria,” he said.

Whereas the health of about 5,000 people in Nigeria, some of whom became blind, got impacted negatively by the toxic sludge, the Italian businessmen who did it remain free and only 94 of their victims received less than US$3,000 each in compensation, Thiaw added.

“Every year almost 50 million tonnes of electronic goods are illegally dumped globally said Thiaw. “Whether the mountains of second-hand electronic goods that end up in African schools as donations are good intentions or just being dumped, without proper dismantling and disposal, the outcome is the same: polluting soil, water, food and air.”

According to Thiaw, African nations have an opportunity to turn the threat into a source of sustainable jobs and economic growth through recycling of goods and creation of jobs.

“We have a collective responsibility to safeguard communities from the environmental and health consequences of hazardous waste dumping,” said Thiaw, adding that this needs concerted efforts as no country can manage it on its own.

Anne Desiree Oulotto, Cote d’Ivoire’s minister for sanitation, environment and sustainable development, told participants that African countries must stand firm against the continent being turned by industrial nations into a backyard for dangerous wastes that are not only harmful to the health of its people but also the ecosystem and their life-supporting services.

“Never again shall we want hear about Africa being a dumping ground of toxic wastes,” said Oulotto, who serves as the president of the COP-2 of the Bamako Convention.

She added that the Bamako Convention is an important instrument that demonstrates Africans will to protect their health and the environment.

Cover image credit: Ochieng’ Ogodo

This article was produced by SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English desk.

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