Closure on Toxic Waste?

Over a year ago I wrote the following:

John James of the BBC has just written a good piece on the aftermath of the toxic waste scandal that hit Abidjan two years ago.  I visited Abidjan a few months after the toxic waste was dumped at sites around the city, and on the way out to a friend’s house, I caught a smell of the revolting stuff. It caught in my throat, made me cough and generally felt pretty awful. And I was just driving withing a kilometre or so of one of the dumps. I know a number of people who were pretty seriously ill because of the chemicals and there were a number of deaths.

It is horrific to realise that two years on, the waste still hasn’t been cleaned up and the people who are suffering from the effects have not yet been compensated.

Finally, things have moved on and Trafigura, the British firm responsible for the dumping, are finally taking some responsibility for their actions. My friend John has another article on the subject – this time in the Times (well done John!). He writes:

The deal under discussion would give each claimant just over £1,000. Martyn Day, of the solicitors Leigh Day & Co, which brought the claim, said that the sum under discussion was “based on the range of short-term symptoms claimed by our clients”.

That angers Mavin Ouattara, head of the Union of Toxic Waste Victims. He told The Times that he welcomed any payment but not a deal that would mean agreeing that the dumping had caused only minimal short-term harm. “People like me with long-term illnesses will feel cheated if the deal concludes that the waste didn’t have any lasting effects,” he said.

A report this week by Okechukwu Ibeanu, the United Nations human rights rapporteur, said that there was “strong prima facie evidence” that 15 deaths were related to the dumping of the waste. Trafigura has consistently denied liability for the incident and described the report as “flawed”.

So it seems to be a small step forward, but there is still a lot more progress that needs to be made. Let’s make no mistake, this is a really dreadful act – a rich British company dumping highly toxic waste at numerous sites across a large city.  What gives us the right to think that we can treat Africa this way?

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