In Bamako, the scourge of toxic waste

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01 January 2021 Friday 08:39
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In Bamako, the scourge of toxic waste

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In the environs of Bamako, the malian capital, open dumping in June 2018. MICHELE CATTANI/AFP

Wearing flip-flops, Zoumana weaves through the debris of glass and plastic bags that line her field. "Watch out, the snakes can hide in it ", he warns. For the past four years, a farmer, 31-year-old grows maize on this land located in the town of Sénou, a bordering neighborhood of Bamako, near the airport. But his crops are wiped out by hundreds of pounds of waste from households in the capital, transported in tractors or in carts, and dumped savagely on his plot. Zoumana is struggling, without success, to try to curb the phenomenon. "I called regularly to the police station, but nothing, the carters slip a ticket and it starts again the next day ", laments he.

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His story is not an isolated case. On the satellite images, the international airport of Mali is surrounded by grey spots that signal the presence of uncontrolled landfills. At the level of the municipalities of the district of Bamako, there is no dumpster, or authorized companies for waste management. Most often, the households subscribe individual subscriptions with small groups of economic interest (GIE) which are in charge of the case.

Abdoulaye Diakite is working for one of these entities. Accompanied by his son aged ten years and his ass, he unloads a mountain of trash not far from the road that runs along the airport, where rampant urbanisation of the capital has not yet cropped land. He admits : "Here, this is not a deposit, and it makes me queasy, but there was no other choice. "

Trays of lunch

for Lack of space, "there is a proliferation of uncontrolled dumps surrounding the airport and in many other places," says Amadou Camara, former head of the national directorate of sanitation. In 2008, two sites have been identified on each of the banks of the river Niger. More than ten years later, they are still not operational and " people do what they want, what they can. The carters settle for the closest points to them, " says the ex-director. These illegal discharges induce a " bird hazard ", he says, because " garbage attracts birds, which are dangerous for the takeoff and for the landing of aircraft ".

The waste comes not just from the centre of the capital. Bordering the airport, the headquarters of the united Nations Mission in Mali, Minusma, would have a share of responsibility in this accumulation of detritus. It is, in any case, that put the residents and workers on site. Diakaridia Traoré, head of the EIG, which employs Abdoulaye and, incidentally, former deputy mayor of Sénou, claims to have seen a day of the members of the Mission " dump all their leftovers and then burn them ".

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It is necessary to follow Abdoulaye to discover the place in question. "It is here that the Minusma removing its waste," he says, pointing out a pit four meters deep invaded by weeds. According to the statements of the inhabitants of the area, these discharges of garbage ceased in June, just before the rainy season. Zoumana discovered until on his field the trays of the lunch of the employees, and " plastics of brands that I've never seen in Mali ". It was easy to spot, he says, because their waste is found in "garbage bags" filed by " persons dressed in white overalls because of the Covid-19 ".

The Minusma, which has delegated the management of its waste to several companies, however, is supposed to comply with certain environmental standards. She also states that " the open burning of waste is not permitted under any circumstance." Contacted about the dumping in the vicinity of its base of Bamako, the mission responds to ignore this kind of practice. "But, in two years at the head of the sanitation, I've never seen the contracts of the Minusma on my desk," says Amadou Camara.

Poubellisation landscape

The effects of this poubellisation of the landscape are not only environmental. Instead of recycling, silhouettes roam the landfills improvised, in search of the plastic " heavy ". These men and women "and collect what they can sell and then set fire to what remains," says Abdoulaye Diakité. The clouds of black are common at the top of Bamako. On the outskirts of the capital, the piles of garbage lining the tracks sometimes leave to escape the toxic fumes. "The gas hinder a lot of people," observes Zoumana. It oppresses the chest. "

The local residents are not the only ones affected. In June 2019, of belgian soldiers stationed in the camp Bifrost, close to that of the Minusma, were alleged to have been suffocated by the fumes of discharges burning in the open air. The ACMP-CGPM), the principal trade association of the belgian army, indicated then that " the disorder [was] typical of a long-term exposure to toxic fumes : lung problems and respiratory, stomach and intestinal problems ".

Recovery of plastic parts "heavy" on open dumping near Bamako, in June 2018. MICHELE CATTANI/AFP

A hypothesis confirmed by the professor Yacouba Toloba, head of the department of pulmonology at the hospital of Point G in Bamako. A study carried out in 2014 in the capital by the society of engineers French Aria Technologies, has identified nearly 400 fine particles, some of which – the most dangerous – produced by the combustion of benzene. "We, lung specialists, we know that these particles are carcinogenic," insists Mr. Toloba, who participated in the study. While the maximum rate recommended by the world health Organization (WHO) is 5 micrograms (µg) per m3 of air, "we have found a rate of 45 µg 46 µg / m3 in sites close to landfills or in places where road traffic is intense," elaborates he.

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" for the past ten years, we observe an increase in respiratory diseases, chronic as acute, related to urbanisation and pollution of materials that are not recycled but burned ", the professor continues. According to him, individuals exposed to two to three years these smoke are also two to three times more risk of developing lung cancer in the future.

This survey was conducted in partnership with the organisation the Investigative Desk (an independent platform devoted to investigative journalism) and the european Foundation for journalism, the European Journalism Fund).

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Updated: 01.01.2021 08:39