Mountains of garbage pose serious health risks in Africa

Tatsuya Kimura/The Yomiuri Shimbun

A man burns cables collected from thrown-away electric appliances and other items to recover metals at a garbage dump in Accra on July 17.

By Tatsuya Kimura and Shinsuke Yasuda / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writers Garbage disposal is an increasingly serious problem in Africa. Leakage of hazardous substances threatens the health of residents, and there have been many fatal accidents in which people were killed when piles of waste collapsed.

At the seventh Tokyo International Conference on African Development, which began Wednesday in Yokohama, the Japanese government plans to announce assistance programs such as fostering human resources for garbage disposal technology and waste management.

Noxious smells

On July 17, garbage was stacked as far as the eye could see and burning plastic could be smelled at a waste dump called Agbogbloshie in Accra. In the about 11-hectare site in the capital of Ghana, a country in west Africa, garbage including cell phones, radio-cassette players and other household items was piled up like mountains.

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Many people living near the site disassemble these electronic products to search for parts and metals inside, making their living by selling them. Abdulrahman Abdullah, 23, was burning the plastic covering copper wires to obtain the metal.

“My eyes are sore and I can’t stop coughing,” he said.

Harmful gases are discharged from burned plastics at the dump, and hazardous substances such as dioxin are deemed to have been seeping into the soil. Administrative authorities should strictly control the garbage and process it to prevent hazardous substances from spreading to the surrounding environment, but in many African countries, this kind of management and control is insufficient.

Garbage volume to double

There have been a series of accidents in which mountains of garbage collapsed. In March 2017, a 50 meter-high garbage mountain collapsed at a dump in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. More than 110 people who were searching for sellable waste were killed.

Populations are increasing and urbanization is spreading in Africa, leading to higher volumes of garbage. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), the volume of domestic waste mainly from households in Africa is predicted to reach 244 million tons by 2025. That is almost double the amount in 2012.

About 50 percent of waste is collected. Mainly because of budget shortages, much of it remains piled up at open dump sites.

The UNEP warns that polluted water from garbage mountains and unsanitary environments are increasing the risk of people suffering from infectious diseases, asthma and cancer. Many people are believed to have died as a result.

World-leading technology

Japan is said to have some of the most advanced waste disposal technologies in the world. The government aims to make assistance in this field a pillar of its aid proposals at this year’s conference.

The government is scheduled to dispatch experts well versed in waste disposal control to African countries. In Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, the Japanese government will establish a training center where Japanese experts will teach how to properly dispose of waste.

In September, in cooperation with the United Nations, the Japanese government will refurbish the Hulene dump site in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique, where there is serious soil pollution from waste.

Yasushi Matsufuji, a professor emeritus at Fukuoka University who is an expert of waste management engineering, said, “Proper disposal of waste plays a very important role in improving residents’ living conditions and environments. Technological assistance like this is Japan’s specialty.”Speech

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