The e-waste dump Agbogbloshie exemplifies the
downside of globalization: It's the bitter end of a supply chain where
children, instead of going to school, wander barefoot gathering bits of
salvaged metal for pennies.
Black, poisonous smoke darkens
the sky above Agbogbloshie, the final destination for electronic waste shipped
from all over the globe. Some 50,000 people, including many children, live here
- at one of the world's largest e-waste dumping grounds.
Literally tons of old electronics
burn in countless open fires, making my skin burn and itch as I walk through
the grounds. There's a metallic taste in my mouth, and my head throbs.
Meter-high, dazzling, green flames release huge wafts of black, poisonous
fumes. It's like an apocalyptic painting come to life.
People burn the cables and
circuit boards to get the poor man's gold within: copper, aluminium, lead -
valued raw materials for industry.
Badugu is 25 years old. He can't
say how long he's been getting copper coils and metal plates out of old radios.
He only knows that he has no choice - this is his livelihood."I want money, that's why I
come do this work," he says. "Today is very bad," he added. He
describes himself as having a "problem inside" due to all the toxic
Next to Badugu, several children
are busy breaking apart old televisions. Some kids drag speaker magnets strung
on cords behind them, wandering the grounds for hours so bits of metal stick to
the magnets. They then sell their catch - bits of circuit board, screws,
aluminium, copper - to metal traders next door. Their income amounts to just a
few euro cents.
Wearing plastic sandals and a
torn T-shirt, Peter stands on a mountain of glass shards, old freezers, copy
machines and car batteries; at his feet, pink ink from printer cartridges coat
the black ground. He shows me his arms and legs, which are covered in cuts from
broken glass and sharp slivers of metal.
"I'm sick in my head,"
he says, describing his constant headaches. Many children here have breathing
problems, and cough up blood. Some, Peter says, also have problems with their
eyes. His siblings work here as well. Peter's mother sells sweets on the
street. He doesn't know where his father is."I want to get money, take my money and
go to school. That's why I am here," Peter says forcefully.
The grounds are full of heavy
metals from televisions and computers. Toxic brominated flame retardants, which
inhibit the ignition of combustible organic materials, are all around.
The children who live and work
here have a wide range of ailments - from kidney disease, to liver malfunction,
to problems with other organs. Ghanaian environmental activist Mike Anane,
who's been coming to Agbogbloshie for years, can attest to the toxic effect on
The children's illnesses are
"a result of their exposure to e-waste from the industrialized
countries," Anane says.
Anane has been gathering evidence
on how the rich Western world is dumping its electronic waste in Africa.
"From Germany, from Denmark, China - the world's computers, television
sets, e-waste. They all come here to die!" he says. This waste is
destroying the environment - and making people sick, he adds.
"Will this ever stop?"
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