By Muntaka Chasant | 1896 words | Reading time: 7 min
Agbogbloshie Short Film
Agbogbloshie, Accra, Ghana
Despite rising global wealth, much of Africa remains in a state of extreme misery, with millions mired in unimaginable poverty.
Thousands of people in places such as Agbogbloshie face significant hardship and poverty.
Agbogbloshie E-waste Dump, Accra, Ghana/ April 2019. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
That should partly explain why it is easy to turn a blind eye to the open burning of electrical wires for copper recovery near the center of Accra, Ghana’s capital city.
True, this provides the impoverished young people in and around Agbogbloshie a desperately needed work.
Agbogbloshie E-waste Dump, Accra, Ghana/ December 2018. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
But should the city's population be exposed to the toxic threats associated with these crude recycling methods just so they could earn a few Ghana Cedis each day?
That's the logic of the Government of Ghana - they're so poor, so please let them be!
As outraged as you are about this (forgive my presumption), you would be surprised to know that this problem is not widely publicized in Accra, let alone the whole of Ghana.
The notoriety of Agbogbloshie as a very serious toxic threat is only popular among some researchers in Ghana.
As the largest open food market in Accra, locals mostly see it as just a 'cool' place to pick up cheap food from whenever possible.
Yes, Accra residents regularly pick up vegetables, fruits, beef, etc. from Agbogbloshie.
In fact, according to the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations (FAO), one third of street food venders in Accra pick up their inputs from Agbogbloshie.
The FAO warned of Agbogbloshie food contamination threat in 2016:
"Agbogbloshie is a toxic threat. The burning of e-waste releases toxic fumes that spread throughout the community, threatening city dwellers. The toxic chemical fumes released get into the food market and get inside the soil throughout the area when it rains. Indeed, high levels of toxins have been discovered in soil and food samples, as these chemicals stay in the food chain." - FAO, 2016.
What is Going on at Agbogbloshie?
A lot is going on at Agbogbloshie.
First, do not conflate the issue here with the unsafe dismantling of e-waste at Agbogbloshie.
The burning of electrical wires for copper recovery at Agbogbloshe has very little to do with the illegal importation of e-waste into Ghana.
Most of the wires are collected locally, from households, auto repair shops, other junkyards, etc.
So don't be too quick to start pointing fingers.
There are several environmental and health hazards related to recycling at Agbogbloshie.
The release of toxic substances from this intense copper recovery process into Accra's air, the soil, and the Korle Lagoon, is only one among several recycling and related environmental and health issues going on at Agbogbloshie.
The burners in the photos and videos (above and below) are usually the visible manifestation of the precious metals business at Agbogbloshie.
Rahim, 27, with his son, burning electrical wires to reclaim the copper wires inside. Agbogbloshie E-waste Dump, Accra, Ghana/ December 2018. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
To the world, they are the villains.
But there are several layers of people involved, which you do not see.
You have the scavengers who roam through Accra every day to collect electrical wires and auto parts.
Then the occasional intermediaries (not always), who pick up the wires and resell them to scrap dealers inside the Agbogbloshie scrapyard, and elsewhere.
The wires are then turned over to the burners, who use the crude methods seen in the videos in this article to remove the plastic sheaths off the copper wires.
They are turned over to the burners in this manner:
Agbogbloshie E-waste Dump, Accra, Ghana/ April 2019. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
Jacob, a burner, is carrying electrical wires in an aluminium wash basin on his head. The copper from these wires were recovered after about 10min of open burning. Agbogbloshie E-waste Dump, Accra, Ghana/ May 2019. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
The dirty copper are then carted away after the burn, weighted and sold inside the Agbogbloshie scrapyard.
Jacob, a burner, is carrying freshly harvested copper in an aluminium wash basin on his head. This copper was weighted and sold. Agbogbloshie E-waste Dump, Accra, Ghana/ May 2019. Photo Credit: Muntaka Chasant
The copper changes several hands before reaching the point where they are reprocessed and used in newer products, mostly outside of Ghana.
These burners are usually the least earned in this process, and the most impacted.
I see them as victims of this terrible place.
Lots of people make money off this Agbogbloshie copper recovery business.
It is Accra residents and the burners who suffer the most.
You can see why employment opportunities for these guys won't be changing the game at Agbogbloshie.
The people making money off this business would find their replacements the next morning.
Regardless of their situation, this should not be going on at Agbogbloshie, not at the city’s largest open food market.
Learn a bit more about what is going on at Agbogbloshie in the links below.
What is the most recent research finding concerning Agbogbloshie?
A recent study by IPEN and the Basel Action Network (BAN) has found high levels of toxins such as dioxins, furans, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), among other highly toxic substances in chicken eggs from Agbogbloshie.1
There are several livestock ranches around the Agbogbloshie e-waste dump.
If you look carefully in some of the scenes in the videos in this article, you can actually see free-roaming cattle and sheep moving about on the Agbogbloshie e-waste landfill, looking for something to chew on.
Where do you think their meat ends up?
Soon after the IPEN and BAN publication on Agbogbloshie, John Pwamang, the Acting Executive Director of Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in an interview with a local radio station explained that, there’s not much the EPA can do except to look forward to an e-waste facility yet to be constructed (to be mainly funded by the German Government) at Agbogbloshie.2
Prof. Kwabena Frimpong Boateng, Minister responsible for Ghana's Environment - The Inauguration of the Abgbogbloshie Technical Training Centre/ March 2019. Credit: Muntaka Chasant
Ghana's EPA is an agency of Ghana's MESTI.
Not to slight the man, but the minister pictured above is somewhat partly responsible for the worsening pollution situation at Agbogbloshie.
EPA's response to the IPEN and BAN findings is disappointing, I think.
It seems to me that the Government is not much bothered by scenes such as those in the videos in this article. If not, why have they failed to intervene to protect the city's population from this toxic pollution?
I have visited Agbogbloshie once every two weeks in the last 9 months, and things are getting worse, as new burning spots seem to be springing up every now and then.
Things are not looking good at Agbogbloshie, and won't be looking good if the Government of Ghana does not intervene immediately.
RELATED: Agbogbloshie 2019
60% of the scenes in the first video above were captured on 29 April 2019. This goes on from morning till evening, mostly from Monday to Saturday.
Despite the environmental health risks, the Government of Ghana for instance has done absolutely nothing to stop the use of scrap tires to singe livestock at Jamestown, Accra.
I would be skeptical about what Ghana's EPA, MESTI and Accra Metropolitan Assembly say about Agbogbloshie, if I were you.
Ghana's EPA is underfunded and under resourced.
Ghana's EPA has only 15 air quality monitors (plus 10 low-cost sensors) in the whole of Ghana. All located in the Greater Accra Region. None for the rest of the country's 15 regions.
Despite estimates by the World Health Organization that more than 28,000 premature deaths in Ghana every year are due to air pollution, Ghana's EPA does not issue air quality alerts to inform the public about pollution levels.
And Data from their insufficient air quality monitoring networks are also not publicly accessible.
Ghana only monitors particulate matter - no monitoring of gaseous pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and ozone.
As you can see here, Ghana does not have the resources to identify and analyze the toxic air pollutants (except particulate matter) from the burning of electrical wires and e-waste for metal recovery at Agbogbloshie.
Go there and assess the environment, and determine for yourself if Mr Pwamang's position that Agbogbloshie does not require immediate intervention is correct or not.
Agbogbloshie is probably still one of the worst polluted places on earth, as captured in the video above and the one at the bottom of this article.
And Accra residents still eat vegetables, fruits, beef, and fish from this 'toxic hell'.
Is there a way to tackle Agbogbloshie immediately?
This is already illegal, as it breaches the Hazardous and Electronic Waste Control and Management Act and Regulations (Act 917 and LI 2250). No new Legislative Instrument is required.
Enforcing environmental laws (and all branches of law it seems) is a major problem in many developing countries, including Ghana.
Ghana has very comprehensive environmental laws.
It was easy to copy and paste laws from other jurisdictions, but they are rarely enforced.
If not, why is this still going on after more than two decades?
Why are urban areas in Ghana drowning in single-use plastics?
Plastic Pollution in Accra, Ghana / October 2018. Credit: Muntaka Chasant
Why are Ghanaian roads filled with dirty and polluting cars?
While my generation (mid-80s) may be responsible for a lot of Ghana's environmental problems right now, we were not, and are not responsible for policy.
My generation is not responsible for the mess that is Ghana today, as we are rarely allowed the opportunity to participate in policy making.
It's still the older people at pensionable ages who shouldn't be working who make policy.
Since this clearly breaches Act 917, a court should be able to stop the hazardous pollution from Agbogbloshie.
I will be exploring legal options on the toxic air pollution from Agbogbloshie if the situation does not improve by 1 August 2019.
Agbogbloshie, Ghana - A short film
More than 90% of the two videos above were captured with a cell phone.
See also: Pictures: The Rwandan Genocide
Please leave your comments below, and let us know what you think!
1. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/apr/24/rotten-chicken-eggs-e-waste-from-europe-poisons-ghana-food-chain-agbogbloshie-accra (Retrieved May, 2019) ↩
2. https://www.ghanaweb.com/GhanaHomePage/business/Agbogbloshie-dump-to-remain-open-as-EPA-targets-e-waste-recycling-facility-741852 (Retrieved May, 2019)↩