Thursday, October 05, 2006

Toxic Wastes? Dump on the Poor!

I am convinced that Africa is the world's dumpster. None of us really care about this continent, except in terms of what resources it can provide to the rest of the world. Europe is up in arms about how many immigrants land on its shores from Africa- many dying on the beaches after a perilous journey. No regard whatsoever for the tourism of the affected countries and all those folks who have come to the beaches to enjoy the sun, sand and surf. America couldn't give a damn about the continent- when it came to Iraq they dreamt up weapons of mass destruction and went in to save the day; Charles Taylor was gutting Liberia at the same time but the US decided when it came to Africa the very organization they label as incompetent and irrelevant (yea, we are talking about the UN) was good enough to handle Liberia using its peace keeping force. Let's not forget history here folks- Liberia is the nation created by those former slaves who chose to return to Africa from America. IMO, there should have been a greater desire to help those whose pasts were shackled to yours. But of course, Liberia's black gold isn't in liquid form.

Here is a recent example of the mistreatment of Africa and Africans that makes my blood boil.

The Probo Koala- a Greek oil tanker, flying a panamanian flag, leased by the London branch of a Swiss firm whose headquarters are in the Netherlands- docked into Amsterdam to get its holds cleaned of what it claimed were marslops, before heading out again. Amsterdam Port Services contracted to do the cleaning for $15,000 but as they started the cleaning, they found that what they were pulling wasn't just marslops and not of a volume they assumed it would be. The mixture they were withdrawing was toxic, the fumes were making the workers sick and the residue cleaning estimate was changed to $300,000 for full and safe clean-up. Trafigura, the lease-holding company, decided this was way too much to pay for clean up and processing, and sought a short-cut. [ FYI, Trafigura posted revenues in 2005 of $28 billion, in case anyone is keeping a tab.]

Trafigura contracted with a company called Tommy in the Ivory Coast and all that toxic sludge (500 tons worth) was dumped around the capital city of Abidjan on the 19th of August. Oil traders and toxic waste experts say that it is clear to see that a country like Ivory Coast has no facilities capable of handling toxic wastes of this kind or proportion. Yet, Trafigura claims that the responsibility lies with the company they contracted to carry out the removal and disposal. Meantime, 8 people are dead and 77,000 sickened by the sludge. If what is happening in the Ivory Coast today were to have happened in any country in the Western World, if even one life had been lost in the West, if even a tenth of the numbers of people were sickened in the West, do you think this story would have faded away this easily? Oh wait a minute- what am I thinking, one life in the West is so much more valuable than one life in Africa. It is only Africa and the lives of Africans- who cares!
This picture shows 6 month-old Salam Oudrawogol of Abidjan, Ivory Coast, who developed these sores since he was exposed to toxic waste in August.
The picture at the top of this page shows another resident of Abidjan near a dump in Akouedo where much of the toxic material was dumped.
[Both pictures taken from NYT (thanks). My Probo-Koala story draws on BBC and NYT reporting; angry editorialising- all moi.]


Saybrook said...

You are correct about this. I have read articles about U.S. battery companies and chemical companies that basically pay next to nothing to dump these products in "legitimate" companies that are going to recycle or dispose of properly. However, we all know that they end up in the hands of people who have no morals and get dumped in the woods or fields of impoverished areas

Saybrook said...

There is hope!
I recently read of Italy using satellite images to scann for the presence of at risk areas that have specific patterns of topography

When officials feel that the presence of an illegal dump is possible they send out personnel to check the area. According to the article they are having some success with this practice.

Is this practical for third world nations? NO! However, the UN or other body could do this easily … or maybe Google could start a low cost service to third world nations(ha ha)

Radhika said...

Hey Sayb! Sad world we live in hey. You know what I think- its all capitalism masquerading as democracy and progress. Money rules everything. :(