Joseph Sarfo Domfeh, Norwegian Pollution Control Authority Project Manager spoke to Tunde Akingbade on the Norwegian experience and tackling of e-waste shipments to Africa. Excerpts:
Q. You are based in Norway and your office is responsible for monitoring and tracking shipment of E-waste and other hazardous waste?
A. Yes, I am based in Norway. First and foremost, we look into the movement of waste within Europe and of course to Africa.
Q. How did you get into that position and as an African? I mean monitoring wastes in Europe?
A. It’s a long story but I will make it short. I was trained in Germany as a waste manager. I had my Masters’ degree in Germany. My wife was actually based in Norway and I decided to move to Norway. So, part of it is a kind of family re-union.
Q. What do you do in your office in Norway?
A. I am an adviser in the Waste Management Department of Climate And Pollution Agency, so our organisation is actually called pollution agency. I am an adviser in waste management. I have to main tasks. I am responsible for the Export to and from Sweden. So basically I am responsible for waste control system in Norway
Q. If anyone or any country wants to move goods, wastes etc into any country, there are many stringent laws and regulations. But if you recall the case of the Colbert Brothers in the United States, they would falsify any documents to ship toxic waste out of their warehouse in New Jersey. Do you have such cases in Europe where people falsify documents just to ship wastes to Africa?
A. We have intelligence. And believe me this intelligence network is doing a great job. There are people in the intelligence network who are very experienced in terms of intelligence and expertise as far as the regulations is concerned. And then the chain of information is very smooth within the Intel network. Sometimes a case may be detected within UK or the Netherlands but we have some contact points in all the European countries where they share the intelligence information, that there is a ship coming from the Netherlands with so, so and so. Then the enforcement authorities will move in.
Q. If you look at the case in Ghana as regards the problem of E-waste and you relate it to Nigeria, what do you make out of it in terms of shipment of E-waste into Africa?
A. For me, first of all, I think it’s not acceptable to ship E-waste into Africa, but again the issue has to do with awareness. Most of these guys who are shipping these E-wastes are our brothers, the same Nigerians, the same Ghanaians. They move around picking these items. Some also buy them through the internet and they send them down. I don’t have any problem with that but they should select items which are working. It’s as simple as that, we cannot use Africa as a dumping ground.
Q. How hazardous are some of these E-wastes?
A. Some of them can be deadly, if you take some of the chemicals from the television tube, it contains lead. And you know lead affects the organs, kidneys. It can even affect the development of foetus, we also know that some of the plastic contain POP (Persistent Organic Pollutants) and what happens is that when you burn these plastics, you will be releasing Dioxins. Dioxins are known to be highly carcinogenic. Some of these E-wastes also contain mercury. Mercury also has serious health implication.
Q. So, people are very ignorant?
A. Yes very ignorant, most of them are ignorant especially the scavengers, the people in the informal sectors are unaware of the dangers in these E-wastes. But for some, they know. It’s just about greediness or selfishness. They look at the money and they don’t give a damn about what they send to Africa.
Q. How did you feel when you watched that movie about the completely useless, knocked down television sets that were shipped to Ghana and Nigeria?
A. It’s very sad, I feel very sad when I see these things. May be because I was brought up as an African and I just cannot stand by and watch my fellow Africans suffer from these things. I feel very sad.