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Opinions of Sunday, 21 January 2007

Columnist: Okpara, Ikenna Goodyear

The Realities Of Waste Trading

The two months of August and September 2006 witnessed the re-occurrence of what environmentalists thought had ended in sub-Saharan Africa. The news sprout that a Netherlands-based company in Cote d’Ivoire, TRAFIGURA, discharged 500 tonnes of toxic waste in the some areas near Abidjan. Reports asserted that seven people died, 40,000 people had serious health problems ranging from nausea, breathing problems and nosebleeds.

One of the ugly reasons used to justify exporting of waste materials from the advanced countries to the developing countries is the unreasonable supposition that they have the potential for employing unskilled people and that these waste materials also help them to get more raw materials for manufacturing. As an instance, plastic waste generation rate and their recycling rate are not commensurate. Plastic waste management processes, in developing countries, alone are enough to provide employable jobs without needing that which is imported. For a country like Ghana, recent reports posits that the country needs funds from HIPC (Highly Indebted Poor Country) to solve its solid waste menace, predominantly plastics. In fact, the Coordinator of the national Plastic Waste Management Taskforce, Mr. Adama-Tettey, noted recently that the taskforce was putting together a business plan to seek support from the “Highly Indebted Poor Country (HIPC)” programme to support its activities which needed billions of cedis (Daily Graphic, Monday October 17, 2005, page 29). This means that Ghana needs funds from International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to manage her native locally-induced solid waste problem.

Sequel to this problem of illegal waste trading, the international environmental movement, Greenpeace, conducted an interesting investigation in Asia, which asserted that destination countries for waste imports are usually legally prohibited, endangers the health of the workers and that the target site is often not in line with that agreed by the importing company. In a similar vein, Burke and Hill (1990) in their article, “The Green Capitalist” stated categorically that environmentally unsound activities are ultimately economically unsound.

The 1997 Basel Convention for sustainable development of waste strategies recognized among other principles, “The Proximity Principle” and “The Polluter Principle”. The Proximity Principle points out that the disposal of hazardous waste must take place as close as possible to their point of generation. The Polluter-Pays Principle points out that the potential and/or actual polluter must act to prevent pollution and those who cause pollution pay for remedying the consequences of that pollution. If all about proximity principle is about getting the waste disposed off at the nearest place, then why should it be transported to another country? Expanding on the meaning of the Polluter-Pays Principle, Uno Winbland, the director of an International Sanitation Research Project, in her paper (titled ‘Towards An Ecological Approach To Sanitation’) presented at the “October 1996 Japan International Toilet Symposium” asserted that: “Industrial wastewater containing dangerous, poisonous chemicals must of course be taken care of at the source, by the industry generating it. All the heavy metals and toxic chemicals used in industrial processes must be retained in closed loops. This can be accomplished by the introduction of the POLLUTER-PAYS PRINCIPLE. It is not a technical question because it can be done, nor an economic one because prevention is bound to cost less than treatment. The question is political.”

But the strong ethical questions are: ‘what amount of money can reasonable compensate for the loss of a human life due to pollution?’ Everyone has but only one life to live, so what amount could sufficiently assuage for the reckless accident of cutting short one’s life mission on earth? I leave the answer for polluters to answer.

A major concept in solid waste management is “Cradle to Grave”. This means that all processes from waste production through transport to disposal should take place within a given geographic area (country). This means that if all about cradle to grave is for a particular waste to be processed and disposed in the source country, then it constitutes a willful violation to deposit the end-product in another country.

In the light of the seemingly disregard for these noble principles, it is clear that, we need an effective approach to the problem of waste trading.

The ABC Approach: We need the ‘A Broader Conceptualization (ABC)’ Approach. There has been much of “legal/policy frameworking”. What about the capacity building? Are local communities equipped with the skills and the know-how to protect themselves immediately such menace is reported? Do local communities really know the “first aid” to take when such menace occur? One of the commitments to promote international corporation through better coordination of common objectives agreed upon during the first NEPAD Ministerial Conference on Science and Technology is to strengthen African capacity to negotiate, implement and monitor international agreements on science and technology. This follows the same vein for waste management principles such as that agreed upon at the Basel Convention.

For instance, in Nigeria’s oil rich region—the Niger Delta—which has witnessed thousands of oil spillages, a local NGO (called Center for Environmental Resource and Sustainable Ecosystem) has initiated a capacity building programme to enable local inhabitants to take remediation steps in the event of fresh oil spillage. This programme is unique in that citizens have been asked to cultivate certain plant species (skill acquisition) that could be used to mitigate the impact of the spillage without waiting for government intervention. Without primarily intending to do so, this capacity building programme would also help to enshrine the “Principle of Public Participation” also agreed upon at the 1997 Basel Convention.

Legislation is the preventive key whilst ‘Capacity building’ is the corrective key. Since it appears obvious that the preventive key has been sacrificed on the alter of few millions of dollars or ineffective border control, can and should we allow the corrective key to elude us? Definitely no! This ABC approach is not restricted to Cote D’Ivoire, it also applies to Mother Ghana and it is not a new story that illegal waste trading has been dumped here before. An old African saying goes, “a child who has no father listens attentively when advice is being given to a child who has a father”. Mother Ghana, here this message! To this end, I strongly recommend that government and NGOs should work closely and define their roles in this effort. Possibly, governments could play a financing role, whilst NGOs whilst could play a ‘community mobilization’ and ‘education’ role towards capacity building. It is hoped that while we ensure high efficiency of the corrective key, we also entreat the powers that be to guarantee us the most effective key—enforcement of legislation, both local and international.

About the Author:
Okpara Ikenna Goodyear is an environmental activist working with the KNUST Environment Society and also the administrator of THE INSIGHT FOUNDATION (P.O.BOX 9571 KUMASI, GHANA).

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.