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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. 

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All Africa, All the Time

"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." It always goes deeper.

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Excerpt:

To understand the scale of response the world must mount in orderto stop Ebola’s march across Africa (and perhaps other continents), the world community needs to immediatelyconsider the humanitarian efforts following the 2004 tsunami and its devastation of Aceh, Indonesia. The U.S. and Singaporean militaries launched their largest rescue missions in history: The United States alone put 12,600 military personnel to a rescue and recovery mission, including the deployment of nearly the entire Pacific fleet, 48 helicopters, and every Navy hospital ship in the region. The World Bank estimated that some $5 billion in direct aid was poured into the countries hard hit by the tsunami, and millions more were raised from private donors all over the world. And when the dust settled and reconstruction commenced, the affected countries still cried out for more.

In contrast, the soaring Ebola epidemic garnered only a negligible international response from its recognition in March until early July. The outbreak originated in the tropical rain forest of Guinea in December 2013, but local health authorities did not recognize the new disease in humans in the country until four months later. They can be forgiven a slow reaction, as Ebola has never previously appeared in the West African region. Shortly after the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared an outbreak of the same strain of Ebola that first appeared in Zaire in 1976, outside humanitarian responders appeared on the sceneto assist Guinea; they were the organizations thatdominated the treatment and prevention efforts throughout the spring and into the summer, as Ebola spread to Liberia and Sierra Leone. During that time the outbreaks were largely rural, confined to easily isolated communities, and could have been stopped with inexpensive, low-technology approaches.

But the world largely ignored the unfolding epidemic, even as the sole major international responder, Doctors Without Borders (also known by its French acronym, MSF), pleaded for help and warned repeatedly that the virus was spreading out of control. The WHO was all but AWOL, its miniscule epidemic-response department slashed to smithereens by three years of budget cuts, monitoring the epidemic’s relentless growth but taking little real action.