The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

The garbage dump of the industrialized countries

Sep 18, 2006

Seven people have died so far in Abidjan, the main city of Ivory Coast, after European petroleum wastes were dumped in open-air sites, polluting the city. Residents hit by headaches, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea fled to the hospitals seeking treatment. This is just the latest fatal result from toxic dumping in the poor countries, carried out by U.S. and European companies.

There are two main beneficiaries from these practices: big business, which gets reduced costs, and African leaders, who get bribes to let it happen. The cynical heads of state of the rich countries allow it all to take place. They churn out legislation and regulatory agreements prohibiting the toxic trade, while behind the scenes they negotiate permission with poor countries for the burial of toxic wastes.

On a global level, there are two billion tons of industrial wastes, of which 400 million tons are dangerous. Ten% of all maritime freight is composed of illegal and dangerous waste. The cost to get rid of toxic waste in the U.S. or Europe is $250 a ton ... but only $2.50 in Africa. Businesses quickly make the calculation, and their financial gain is considerable. This is how Africa became the garbage dump of the industrialized countries over the past decades.

Since January 31, 1991, the Bamako Convention agreed to by the industrial countries prohibited the import of toxic waste into Africa. But businesses found legal ways around the prohibition. There are “export” agreements through which the multinationals give financial compensation to African states in exchange for toxic burials. As a result, tens of thousands of tons of waste have poured into Africa totally legally. This includes various chemical products, toxic slush from oil refining and infectious wastes from big European hospitals. These wastes are either covered over with some dirt or just thrown on the ground. The result has been irreparable damage to the environment and the health of the African people. Rates of infectious disease and cancer have shot up.

European countries paid the government of Angola a paltry two million dollars to permit five million tons of industrial wastes to be buried. Somalia is another favorite dumping ground, with ten million tons of waste poured over its coasts and territory. Numerous rusted out and burst containers sit on its beaches. Industrial and hospital waste spill out, containing uranium, cadmium, mercury and all sorts of highly toxic chemicals. In 2001, a report on the business of toxic waste disposal showed that the U.S. and European countries were planning on sending 29 million tons of toxic waste to eleven African countries. This will result in a great windfall for the European and U.S. multinationals and the leaders of African countries, but pollution and fatal diseases for the continent’s poor masses! This is another reality of capitalism.