Friday, March 6, 2009

Ground Floor: Who cares about e-waste in Ghana?

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi

I am dedicating my column this week to the critical problem of e-waste dumping in Ghana.

There is now no doubt, that Ghana is a choice destination for dumping of e-waste from America and Europe.

Recent developments in Europe, particularly, the UK and Holland paint a very clear picture of the horror the country is confronted with.

Since I first wrote an informative article for the Daily Graphic which the newspaper published in its June 5, 2007 edition, and subsequently wrote an online version of the story drawing attention to the dangers the country could possibly be faced with in the event that we gloss over the increasing presence of health and environment threatening e-waste in Ghana, not much has happened in the country.

I have subsequently written a number of articles on the subject and still do.

Indeed, not even the media in Ghana has seen the issue as a major problem deserving of the kind of attention that it gives to some of the mundane issues we hear in the electronic media and read in the press.

The only time the media in Ghana did any coverage of the issue as it would some of the other issues of importance to it, was when a press conference was held on it or when the international media covered the issue.

Even though, I have worked for some radio stations in this country, my efforts to encourage producers and presenters to give the matter some attention did not receive any appreciable response. In one or two instances, the matter was touched but only after some other media has reported it.

As for government agencies tasked with monitoring and protecting Ghana’s environment and the health of citizens, the least said about them the better.

All the time that I have been contacted on the subject, it has been by foreign individuals, organizations or media. Most of the work and report that has been done on e-waste in Ghana, apart from those I have done and what my good friend Mike Anane has been doing, have been done by foreigners. And this leads me to ask; who cares about e-waste in Ghana?

On August 5, 2008, Greenpeace released a report on Ghana, which detailed the extent of pollution the country is exposed to due to the presence of e-waste in the country. And I found out later that, the international organization, actually followed up on my works to do their investigation.

Following that, one of the biggest publications in Germany Süddeutsche Zeitung sent down one of their editors, Michael Bitala to consult me on the subject in Ghana and he subsequently did a story which has awaken Germans to the magnitude of the problem in Ghana.

After his article, a German TV station, Proseiben flew down a crew to consult with me and did a documentary on the subject.

So far, as a journalist, I feel like a lone crusader on the subject that affects Ghana. I do feel lonely sometimes in this quest. I did not choose to, I got involved in the matter as part of my duty. I wasn’t even paid to write on the subject – I did it all as part of my regular writings on matters of local importance that have global relevance, just as I have written extensively on the global food and energy crisis, financial meltdown and the biofuels debate.

In a telephone conversation I had this morning March 6, 2009, with Dutch journalist, Weert Schenk of Volkskrant newspaper, something hit me so hard. He told me nine Ghanaians have been cited in the deadly trade of exporting e-waste from the Netherlands to Ghana.

Eight people have been arrested in the east of the country.

He told me these people have been involved in the deadly trade since 2003 or even earlier.

The eight who were arrested included three Turkish citizens and five Ghanaians, but in keeping with Dutch laws, police have not released their names to the media.

The British authorities have also arrested a man in Sussex and he has been released on bail awaiting court appearance in May 2009.

The export of e-waste from Europe is illegal and a contravention of the WEEE. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) directive stipulates that Information Technology (IT) manufacturers are legally responsible for the safe disposal of their products, and are obliged to ensure all products are disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner themselves or sign up with a government-approved waste-handling firm to do it on their behalf.

These countries are acting to curtail the export of these deadly toxic chemicals into our country, and we are doing nothing about it as a country.

In an interview I had with a former deputy Minister of Environment and Rural Development, he told me specifically that there is no e-waste dumping in Ghana.

The Ghana Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has done little so far. The agency is either under-staffed or poorly resourced. The EPA told the media in April 2008 that it was setting up a committee to draft policy for handling and managing e-waste in Ghana, but nothing has happened since the announcement was made.

Each time I have called the EPA for information on the subject, they had asked me to travel to their offices before they could talk to me. This attitude simply makes nonsense of the importance of the telephone and the need to cut down on the cost of doing business.

Meanwhile, CEOs of multi-nationals and other public officials in other parts of the world would speak on the phone and answer questions on their activities.

Some Ghanaian officials would not respond to your requests for an interview even after you have fulfilled their request to send your questionnaire in advance. For months, you would not even get the courtesy of a call or an appointment.

The press office of the UK Environment Agency has been responding to my queries. An official, Scarlett Elworthy has told me the UK government is investigating specifically the dumping of e-waste in Ghana.

Our country and our people are at great risk of the dangers that e-waste poses, but there is official inaction to deal with the problem.

I formed a group on Facebook, Ghanaians Against Dumping of E-waste. Even though membership of the group is growing, most who have signed on are Ghanaians living abroad. Not many Ghanaians living at home have signed on, even though, there are lots of Ghanaians at home on Facebook.

I am doing my part, but I can’t do it all. I would however, continue to do what I have to do.

It is however time for us as a country to take decisive action to deal with this issue once and for all. Because our environment and people are in grave danger of being exposed to the cocktail of toxic chemicals that e-waste emits into the system.

The time to act is now!

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