During our meeting yesterday Angela from WWF told us about the problem of pesticide dumping in Africa constitutes one of the most serious environmental crimes that she is working on. The implications for Wildlife are enormous. Africa it seems, is Europe’s most popular dumping ground for radioactive waste and toxic chemicals. Although the European Union agreed in 1988 to implement a ban that prohibits the export of hazardous wastes from developed countries to the developing world, the USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand refused to sign up. There’s big money in dumping and this breeds corruption. It is claimed that each month more than 500 container loads, of 400,000 dead computers, arrive in Nigeria to be processed. The problem of waste dumping hit me in the gut when I realized how it affects individual people. You may have heard about the dumping of petroleum products in the Ivory coast 2 years ago by a Dutch firm.
In August 2006 a local company hastily fly-tipped truckload after truckload of chemical waste at around 15 locations around the city. The United Nations says the dumping of the 500m tonnes of waste led to at least 16 deaths and more than 100,000 other victims needing medical treatment.
The legal case against Trafigura, the Dutch multi national shipper company that dumped the residue, was dropped in an out of court settlement in early 2007 when they agreed to pay the Ivorian government around $200m (£100m) in one of the largest ever payments of its kind. This money was to pay for the clean up and for compensation to the victims who each received approximately 500$
The waste, which contained a mixture of gasoline, water, caustic washings and the poisonous gas hydrogen sulfide, was unloaded in Abidjan from the vessel Probo Koala on August 19 2006 and then dumped in open air sites throughout the densely populated city. According to this news article Abidjan may lose up to 1,000 more people as a result of the toxic dump which is emitting choking fumes. Local authorities claim that over 70 people have so far died from inhaling the fumes; most of them children and the aged. Figures from the World Health Organization indicate that 135,000 people have sought medical treatment for various ailments arising from the toxic dump. The Ivorian Health ministry puts the figure at 131,113. A thousand deaths will mean plucking out one fifth of the population of Akouedo, one of the worst affected communities. It is believed that this is a conservative estimate, the casualties are likely to be much greater.
To me it’s obvious that Trafigura accepts responsibility for the crisis although they claim ‘officially’ that the payment is not an admission of liability but that it was ‘made out of sympathy for Ivorian people, and it also disputes whether the chemical slops were the cause of the large number of medical cases’.
The multinational, which specialises in trading oil and metals, undertook to identify and clean up any sites which could still contain toxic waste linked to its shipment. The deal is good for everyone except the people of Africa. the Ivory coast cannot pursue Trafigura of any further charges, and the two French executives of Trafigura, Claude Dauphin and Jean-Pierre Valentini, were released and never charged. The Ivory Coast government agreed not to pursue Trafigura for any further compensation as part of the deal.
The bad guys include officials who endorsed the dumping and Ivory Coast’s prime minister responded by dissolving his 32-member cabinet as a result. Understandably the public are still angry and they set fire to the home of the Abidjan port director and attacked the country’s transport minister.
That was the 18th August 2006. Well, it’s two years later and guess what? The money has been paid and the waste is still there and people are still dying.
While Trafigura cannot be charged in Ivory coast the world is not standing back. This week an Amsterdam court will start hearing evidence relating to the Probo Koala waste scandal. This case is about the Probo Koala and does not affect the dump in the Ivory coast but their handling in Amsterdam. It now emerges that Trafigura, chartered a vessel, which at first attempted to have the waste processed in Amsterdam, but the company it contracted for this rejected the cargo because of its odour. Trafigura later ordered the Probo Koala to set sail for Ivory Coast where a local company registered only a few days earlier had promised to do the job.
Meanwhile British lawyers have mounted the largest class action yet lodged in the UK courts for up to 30,000 Africans allegedly poisoned by this toxic waste dump. This action is being brought against Trafigura, a London-based multinational, over the dumping in 2006 of 400 tonnes of toxic waste in the Ivory Coast.
According to Times online Martyn Day, senior partner with Leigh Day & Co stated “That we can bring a case with 30,000 claimants from a far-off land to trial within three years of the events shows that in England we have a system for group claims that is second-to-none in the world in holding multinationals to account for their actions,”
The law firm was brought in by Greenpeace, which in turn was asked to help by the Ivorean Government. Until 2006 Day was chairman of Greenpeace UK and is still on the executive of the Greenpeace Trust. By bringing the claims under the ‘no win, no fee’ scheme Greenpeace we can develop a treasure chest to help to finance large cases like this.
So you’d think like Trafigura has learned a lesson right? Wrong!
According to Afrol News on 24th June this year a vessel from the shipping company Trafigura, “High Land”, landed in the Nigerian port of Lagos where it was observed off loading allegedly dangerous and poor gasoline, aimed at West African consumers. The vessels previously stopped in Tema, Ghana, where it may also have loaded off bad gasoline.
Trafigura is the world’s third largest independent oil trader. According to their own figures, last year’s turnover amounted to US$ 51 billion. The company so far has denied any wrongdoings and claims to operate by strict ethical guidelines.
This article explains that “The Basel Convention was adopted in 1989 largely due to African outrage over dumping incidents and schemes such as the infamous Koko beach dumping in Nigeria in 1987. The original Basel Convention which demanded controls on such exports however was seen by most countries as being far too weak to control the toxic waste trade which can involve great profits and potential therefore for corruption. Thus in 1995 the Convention Parties decided to create the Basel Ban Amendment – a total prohibition on all forms of toxic waste exports from OECD/EU countries to the rest of the world.
This amendment however, while implemented by the European Union, has not yet entered into global force and ironically many of the countries that are currently having their workers and environmental health severely impacted by hazardous waste have failed as yet to ratify it. These countries include, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Philippines, and Cote D’Ivoire. Some countries like the United States, Canada, Australia and South Korea have openly opposed the global ban. Worst of all the US, the nation that produces the most hazardous waste per capita, has failed to ratify the original Basel Convention let alone the Basel Ban Amendment”.