with mercy to Africa to stop deaths at least.
New York Times 6/10/2006
AN AFRICAN DUMPLING GROUND
Globalization brings wealth and opportunity to many people around the world . But to poor slum dwellers in the failing state of Ivory Coast, it has brought brought horrible sickness and death after hazardous waste, shipped nearly halfway around the world , was stealthily dumped in backyars around Abidjan. This need not and should not have happened.
The waste- a fuming mix of petrochemicals and caustic soda- that started out in the Mediterranean and ended up in Africa could have been safely disposed of earlier in its journey . But Trafigura, the swiss trading company that leased the tanker , balked at paying European prices, Instead, 85.000 people ended up seeking medical treatment , and at least eight have died.
The details and legal responsibilities are still being sorted out. But the lesson is plain.
Without strict, and strictly enforced, international rules on waste disposal, dangerous cargoes will find the course of least resistance , least cost , and least regulation, scarring the lives of some of the world's poorest, worst governed and most defenseless people .
This story began in July, When a Greek – owned Panamanian – flagged tanker, leased by Trafigura, stopped in Amsterdam and attempted to unload its waste. That fell through when a Dutch company that had contracted to do the job for $15.000 found far more noxious material in the ship's hold than it had been led to believe . Completing safe disposal there would instead cost $ 300.000, plus perhaps as much again in delays.
That sent Trafigura looking for cheaper alternatives. But for a company that had revenues of $28 billion last year, it was not a prohibitive price- especially considering what happened.
The ship moved on to several more ports, ending up in Abidjan, where Trafigura hired a local disposal company that did the nocturnal backyard dumping.
Trafigura says the lvoirian authorities told it that the local company could do the job safely. If that is true, those officials were recklessly incompetent. In any case, a stronger system of international regulations backed up by a threat of fines or other penalties might have forced Trafigura to think twice about whom it was hiring.
Unless such regulations are tightened and reliably enforced, the sick and the death Ivory Coast will have suffered for nothing.
And the whole story will soon be repeated in some other country where costs are low, rules are slack , and , as an inevitable result , human life is cheap.