EU, US dumping toxic waste in Africa

Monday July 5 2010

Dumping at a garbage site. Photo/FILE

Dumping at a garbage site. Photo/FILE 

By PAUL REDFERN

European states are still using African coasts as a dumping ground of toxic waste, even after enactment of legislation aimed at ending the practice by the European Union.

The worst examples of such dumping in the recent past, according to a report by the international environmental campaign group Greenpeace, is at the Somali port of Eel Ma’aan, north of Mogadishu.

Greenpeace is now calling on the United Nations to investigate the dumping of toxic and radioactive materials in Somalia.

In a 36-page document titled “Toxic Ships,” the UK-based group claims that it has photographic evidence from an inconclusive investigation by the Italian authorities into the suspected burying of shipping containers filled with toxic waste inside the foundations of the port at Eel Ma’aan, in the 1990s.

The EU adopted tough regulations on e-waste in 2003 but almost 70 per cent is still unaccounted for, Greenpeace said, citing figures from the European Commission.

“Waste management is extremely lucrative,” the group said, citing a sector turnover of €100 billion ($124 billion), providing up to 1.5 million jobs.

Europe generates some 1.3 billion tonnes of household and industrial waste a year, plus 700 million tonnes of agricultural waste, according to the European Environment Agency.

Of this, 40 million tonnes is hazardous.”

Ever since ocean dumping of industrial and radioactive waste was banned by the London Convention in 1993, Greenpeace says that “rumours of dumping operations in the Mediterranean, Southeast Asia, and off the coast of Somalia had been circulating, but governments have done little or nothing to verify them at source.”

But it says despite the new legislation, “the dirty, lucrative business goes on” and that “every day “toxic ships” sail from EU ports with cargos of toxic waste destined for a developing country.

Between 1988 and 1994, Greenpeace revealed 94 attempted or actual cases of hazardous waste exports to Africa, involving over 10 million tonnes of residues.

Some schemes included the building of local waste management facilities, incinerators and landfills.

Others concerned radioactive waste — such as the infamous ODM project that targeted at least 16 different African countries.

Many schemes, however, were simple dumping operations.

Waste containers were shipped following the path of least resistance and weakest governance, ending up in remote areas of countries such as Equatorial Guinea, Lebanon, Somalia and the Congo.

Toxic waste was also dumped on Nigerian and Haitian beaches.

European countries have been facing the challenge of dealing with the hazardous waste they produce for at least 30 years.

Greenpeace says that “as the cost of managing and disposing of this waste safely became clear, governments began exporting the problem to developing countries where environmental and workplace legislation is either inadequate or unenforced.”

Evidence of growing environmental crime in waste management forced European Union countries to adopt legislation to curb waste shipments to poor countries.

Unfortunately, proper enforcement of such provisions has been lacking, Greenpeace says.

In July 2009, the United Nations Office on Drug and Crime (UNODC) published the report, “Transnational trafficking in West Africa,” in which it identifies trafficking in persons, drugs, oil, cigarettes, counterfeit medicines, toxic waste and electronic waste as posing a serious threat to security and development.

Greenpeace says that it is “not possible to document at EU level what specific kind of hazardous and problematic waste is shipped across boundaries, because 40-50 per cent of waste shipped outside the EU is defined simply as ‘other waste.’ However, the nature of such waste is largely unknown.”

But Greenpeace concludes by saying, “It is likely that most waste shipments result in environmental and public health crimes in receiving countries.”

Greenpeace says that the UN must carry out an independent assessment on the alleged dumping of toxic and radioactive waste in Somalia, particularly in the area of the port of Eel Ma’aan.

It also calls upon the EU to implement its own toxic waste prevention measures, which are one of the pillars of the EU waste policy.

It particularly singles out the Italian government, which it says “must create a strong co-ordination among all the investigative authorities (Procura della Repubblica) which have been, and still are, working on the issue of toxic and radioactive waste trade, to identify and neutralise the network of people and enterprises managing the illegal waste trade shipped to developing countries (and possibly dumped into the sea) with the help of criminal networks and the support of state civil servants.”

“Banning shipments of hazardous waste for disposal to the poorest countries is a laudable achievement,” Greenpeace said, referring to EU adoption of the 1989 Basel Convention, which was ratified by most EU states by 1998. “Yet large amounts of waste are shipped from Europe and the US to Africa and Asia on a daily basis,” it said, noting that most are illegal shipments of electronic or e-waste, such as computers, cell phones and television sets.

The UN Office on Drugs and Crime has estimated that the EU generates 8.7 million tonnes of e-waste a year and that African countries, primarily Nigeria and Ghana, “run the risk of becoming the rubbish dumps of the planet.”

“Lack of enforcement, control and data collection on EU waste exports is common in all member states for the very simple reason that illegal waste shipments to poor countries save a lot of money for both business and governmental agencies in charge of monitoring the implementation of EU waste legislation,” Greenpeace said.

It urged the EU to implement its own toxic waste prevention measures.

A chapter of the 37-page report is devoted to Somalia and the release to Greenpeace of an Italian investigation into the suspected dumping of radioactive and other toxic waste at Eel Ma’an from 1990 to 1997 in an alleged deal between Italian businesses and local warlords.

Investigations

The inquiry was eventually dropped for lack of evidence because the authorities were unable to inspect the site.

The UK-based Financial Times newspaper said that in 2005, Giancarlo Marocchino, a businessman at the centre of the investigation, testified before a parliamentary inquiry into the deaths of two Italian journalists in Mogadishu and denied involvement in dumping.