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ENVIRONMENT-NIGERIA: As E-Waste Dump, Lagos Imperils People

Sam Olukoya

LAGOS, Jan 23 2008 (IPS) - Nigeria’s commercial capital is arguably one of the largest dumps for obsolete electronic items otherwise called e-wastes.

According to the Basel Action Network (BAN), a Seattle-based environmental group, an estimated 500 shipping containers with a load equal in volume to 400,000 computer monitors or 175,000 large TV sets enter Lagos each month. As much as 75 percent of some shipments are classified as e-waste.

“The reasons for this huge influx of e-waste into Lagos are not far fetched,” Peter Ejiofor, a Lagos dealer in second hand computers told IPS. “Lagos has a large sea port where the items easily slip through, also there is a huge appetite for cheap second hand imported electronics items in the city,” he says.

But Lagos is paying a huge environmental cost for these cheap items. Most of the imported items get discarded almost as soon as they are shipped into Lagos.

“E-waste is a major problem, it’s a major challenge, we have a pile up of them,” Ola Oresanya, managing director of the Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), told IPS.

With no facilities to recycle e-wastes, they are indiscriminately discarded around the city. Some of them end up in dumpsites where they are burnt.

Environmentalists have expressed concern about this. “It is a very worrisome situation because components from these electronic items are very hazardous,” Leslie Adogame of the Nigerian Environmental Society told IPS.

He is particularly concerned about the health implication. “There is open burning. Some components produce a lot of particulate matters,” he says. “People around the areas where the wastes are being burnt have to be suffering from chest-related diseases because they inhale a lot of noxious substances,” he added.

Oresanya says LAWMA is concerned about the dangers posed by e-waste. Education has been one of the main actions taken by the authorities to curb the menace. “We have been educating people against burning e-wastes. We believe they would change,” he says.

But Adogame believes combating e-waste should go beyond education. He says the way out is for the establishment of “an integrated system to manage the waste.”

To combat the enormous task, Lagos authorities are looking to the private sector for assistance. “We have been talking with the organised private sector who have the wherewithal to manage the disposal of these e-wastes to come in and assist us,” says Oresanya.

Lagos has a huge waste disposal problem. The streets are littered with little plastic sachets used for selling water. In the hot tropical weather, hundreds of thousands of plastic sachets of water are purchased monthly.

“The sachets are partly responsible for the severe flooding that some parts of Lagos have faced in recent years,” Lagos resident Femi Oluwole told IPS. “When it rains the plastic sachets block the drains and the water overflows, flooding the street and our houses,” says Oluwole whose residence in Agege, a Lagos suburb is often flooded.

Lagos is one of the most populous cities in the world. According to U.N. projections, Lagos’ population will reach 20 million by 2010. Many concede that the city’s high population poses a challenge to waste disposal. “Population could be an even bigger problem if waste disposal is poorly managed,” says Oresanya.

Lagos generates about 9,000 metric tonnes of wastes daily. As much as 80 percent of this waste can be recycled. Oresanya believes the huge waste generated in the city can be harnessed to positive use through recycling.

Under the city’s recycling initiative called ‘zero waste programme’, organic waste which makes up 60 percent of the city’s waste is being recycled into compost. This is being utilised for a green programme aimed at beautifying the city with trees and flowers.

Waste is also being utilised for other positive purposes. “We are looking at wastes as a tool of job creation and poverty reduction,” says Oresanya. He added that waste management has created direct jobs for 350 people. Some of them are employed in recycling plants, including one that converts organic wastes into compost and another that converts plastic sachets into pellets.

Oresanya says about 3,000 other people make an indirect living from the city’s waste. At dumpsites in the city, hundreds of unemployed youths can be seen scavenging to recover paper, metals, plastics and other useful wastes. “I can tell you that waste is a way of keeping some people busy,” says Oresanya.

LAWMA says it has an ambitious project for 2008. A priority is to double the quantity of waste recycled. “Before the end of this year we want to expand the intake of our recycling plants,” he says. “We have a lot of jobless youths around here and we need to create jobs for people. Recycling will create jobs for our people.”

He is confident that LAWMA will achieve its objective for 2008. “We have the political mindset, we have the commitment, and the government is investing and partnering with investors in that direction.”

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