In Photos: The Agbogbloshie Problem.
Waste management in many African countries is a major problem. From littering, to proper sewer and refuse disposal, air pollution and even access to clean water, the basic needs of many African citizens are ignored by those responsible for for carrying out these services. Across the leadership spectrum, from local municipalities and national governments, these failures often fall into a larger and highly disturbing trend of citizen neglect within many African countries.
Forced to resort to their own initiatives, it’s not unsurprising to hear and see people across the continent carrying out their own form of waste management and address the health and sanitation issues in their own communities, leading to both negative and positive consequences. Although many are familiar with the West’s portrayal of Somali pirates as money-hungry gun-toting kidnappers (see: Captain Phillips), their story is much more complex than that. It begins with the dumping of toxic waste by and the looting of their seas by foreign countries, and progresses with action by local Somali’s attempting to defend their coastline. Similarly, in southeastern Nigerian where oil pollution remains a continuous health hazard and danger to the surrounding flora and fauna, bands of militant groups such as MEND took up arms against the local government and private oil companies responsible for the exploitation of their resources.
Although not as drastic, in terms of the use of arms, as the above examples, Ghana is another such country were citizens have found their own way to deal with toxic and improper disposal of waste in their communities.
Over the past several years, various images and documentaries have highlighted one area of the country in particular. In what was once a wetland and recreation area, e-waste now mars the former picturesque landscape, causing mass-scale pollution in the process. Agbogbloshie is the world’s biggest e-waste site that the around 40, 000 settlers have nicknamed ‘Sodom and Gomorrah’. Most of the ‘workers’ here are young men aged between 7-25 who sift through the e-waste in search of resellable materials, such as copper, earning around $2.50. As a result of the intense and toxic labour they engage in, many of these young men succumb to a myriad of diseases such as untreated wounds, back and joint problems, damage to their lungs and other internal organs, eye issues, chronic nausea, anorexia, respiratory problems, insomnia, and worst of all, cancer.
Even in countries like South Africa with better health infrastructure, miners face a similar dilemma where, faced with unemployment, many are exposed to hazardous conditions through their work and the lifestyle that migrant life facilitates.
With little to no access to basic and adequate healthcare, many often succumb to these illnesses. Not only does the waste have a direct impact on both the short- and long-term health of nearby residents, aesthetically, Agbogbloshie is far from a pretty site. Where small mounds and sizeable heaps of rubbish in Lagos disturb me when walking the cities hot and humid busy streets, I can only imagine how this ugly site and the government neglect psychologically affects those forced to accommodate it.
The images above are from a photographic study carried out by Kevin McElvaney and featured on Al Jazeera’s website.
What I love most about these photos is that, whether intentionally or not, McElvaney features most of the single individual photos on a make-shift ‘podium’ (resourcefulness, once again) almost as if to say that these people are above the rubbish that surrounds them. Not only in a literal sense, but in a figurative sense as well.
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | Soundcloud | Mixcloud
All Africa, All the Time