NOT MANY RESIDENTS OF GHANA'S capital, Accra, go to the down-market suburb of Agbogbloshie. But their health is sure to suffer from the toxic-laden smoke that spews into the atmosphere every day from a dump at Agbogbloshie where 15% of the world's e-waste is burned by young men who make a living out of metals scavenged from computers before they are set on fire.
According to Pieter Hugo's just published book, Permanent Error, Agbogbloshie is the new dumping ground for discarded computers, mobile phones, computer games, printers, and other gadgetry from the developed world, including the USA, UK, Canada, and the Netherlands.
Ghana's capital has thus become one of the largest repositories for toxic e-waste from around the world, which is burned by an army of unemployed young men engaged in a mad search for valuable metals such as copper, steel and aluminium, which they sell on the local market.
The e-waste is too toxic for most landfills in Western countries and so it is shipped "away" by fraudulent businesses posing as recyclers. But it turns the area in Accra into a poisonous wasteland contaminating the air, soil, and groundwater for miles around.
The haunting images in Pieter Hugo's book were all taken at Agbogbloshie Market. They capture some of the thousands of disenfranchised men and boys who harvest the metals from the computer components and circuit boards before destroying them in the same place where they live and keep their cattle!
As Hugo's publishers, Prestel, put it: "Agbogbloshie is a place where memories and information stored in countless hard drives turn into black smoke and molten plastic ... It is a fragile co-existence of humanity and absurdity in a place marked by a profound inhumanity."
Some of the discarded computers, mobile phones, and other gadgetry have come from as far afield as the School District of Philadelphia (USA), the Dutch Environmental Protection Department (Netherlands), the National Trust (UK), the US Bureau of Diplomatic Security, Diplomatic Telecommunications Service, the US Army, the State of Connecticut Department of Mental Health (USA), the Saint Vincent de Paul Residence of the Bronx (New York), the US Forest Service, Barclays Bank, Prince George's County Corrections Department (USA), Wandsworth Borough Council (London, UK), Rockville School Division (USA), the UK Ministry of Defence, and the US Environmental Protection Agency. In a powerful essay accompanying Hugo's book, Jim Puckett, an environmental health and justice activist for 22 years who formerly worked for Greenpeace as its international toxic director, pulls no punches. His piece, entitled "A Place Called Away" is so enlightening that it deserves to be quoted at length here. He writes:
"There are questions lying strewn about the Agbogbloshie dump and in other such places I have visited in the last 10 years. They are the...