The West African region is facing a significant increase in e-waste generated by electronic equipment, which poses mounting health and environmental risks, according to a new report by the U.N.
The report found that 85 percent of the waste produced in the region comes from domestic consumption. But the problem is further exacerbated by industrialized countries exporting used electronic equipment that often proves to be unusable and ends up being discarded.
The report singled out the U.K. as the dominant exporting country to Africa for both new and used electrical and electronic equipment, followed by France and Germany. The report assessed the situation over two years in five West African countries -- Benin, Côte d'Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia and Nigeria -- and found that they produce between 650,000 and 1,000,000 tons of domestic e-waste each year.
According to the U.N. Environmental Program (UNEP), although the use of electrical and electronic equipment is still low in Africa compared to other regions, it is growing at a staggering pace as more people start using mobile phones and personal computers.
"The usage of personal computers in the last decade in Africa has increased by a factor of 10 and the number of mobile subscribers has increased by a factor of 100 in the same time period, the consumption of these gadgets has driven up e-waste levels," the report said.
The report, which was prepared by the secretariat of the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movement of Hazardous Wastes and their Disposal and Partners, also documents the economic and environmental potential of building a resource recovery and waste management system for electronic waste. Africa is experiencing increasing imports of ICT equipment but without a corresponding rise in recycling capacity.
The problem is that several countries in Africa do not yet have ICT policies in place to support the establishment of e-waste plants. In East Africa, only Kenya has an e-waste recycling plant while in Southern Africa, only South Africa has recycling plants.
Most computers imported to Africa from Europe cannot be upgraded or repaired and are carelessly discarded because many African countries lack the capacity and regulatory framework to dispose of them in an environmentally friendly manner, government officials say.
Some countries are moving to change that. Rwandan IT minister Ignace Gatare said last week that, "my office has formed a taskforce team to draft an e-waste policy, in collaboration with Rwanda Utility Regulation Authority and other stakeholders."