Thursday, November 02, 2006

How First-World Garbage Makes Africans Sick By Jeremy Kahn

Over the last few weeks, a major environmental, medical, and political crisis has unfolded in the West African nation of Ivory Coast. On Aug. 19, a Panamanian-flagged ship owned by a Greek firm and chartered by a leading Dutch commodities broker docked in Abidjan, the country's commercial capital. The ship unloaded between 400 tons and 600 tons of toxic petrochemical waste, which was summarily dumped in open-air sites around the city and poured into the sewer system. Within days, people began to show up in hospitals complaining of symptoms ranging from nosebleeds, diarrhea, and nausea to eye irritation and breathing difficulties. So far, 50,000 people have sought medical attention, seven people have died, and dozens more have been hospitalized after being poisoned by the fumes.

The toxic waste has spread to the large lagoon that divides this city of 5 million—once known as "the Paris of West Africa"—and may have contaminated drinking water and surrounding farm land as well. The war-racked country's Cabinet ministers resigned en masse over what was seen as the government's slow response to the crisis and its alleged complicity in the dumping. This has set back already fragile efforts to restore peace and democracy to Ivory Coast four years after a civil war left the nation divided and economically crippled. Meanwhile, people clamoring for medical attention have overwhelmed Abidjan's hospitals, many of which have run out of critical supplies. International aid organizations have rushed teams to the country to help provide humanitarian assistance and to clean up the waste, a process that is expected to take at least six weeks. The World Health Organization has said the acute medical crisis is over but has warned of possible long-term health effects from the waste dumping. more...


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