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In Pictures: Ghana’s e-waste mecca

E-waste at the Agbogbloshie dumpsite near Accra has created a socio-economic and environmental disaster.
Agbogbloshie is the world’s biggest e-waste dumpsite and is located close to Accra, Ghana. Electronic waste – TVs, PCs, HiFi systems, refrigerators – defines the landscape of this former wetland and recreation area.Traders from Europe, US, China and India label their containers as «Development Aid» or «Second-Hand Products», and in the end, up to 500 containers find their way, illegally, to Tema Harbour, 20 miles east of Agbogbloshie. Customers around the globe expect proper recycling, but illegal dumping became a lucrative business.

Here in Agbogbloshie 7- to 25-year-old boys smash stones and simple tools against TVs and PCs to get to the metals, especially copper. They will earn approximately $2.50 per day. Most of them, hoping for a better future, left their families from the poor northern and upper west regions of Ghana for this kind of work.

Injuries like burns, untreated wounds, lung problems, eye damage, and back problems go hand in hand with chronic nausea, anorexia, debilitating headaches and respiratory problems. Almost everyone suffers from insomnia. Smoke and invisible toxins (especially cadmium) harm the careless workers because they often don’t know about the risks and walk around in flimsy footwear like flip-flops. Most of them die from cancer while in their 20s.

Besides these horrible facts and circumstances, though, you will find a colourful and spiritual environment with optimistic people. Many young people believe that this is just a temporary situation and hope that they will find their way out of it one day.

Nevertheless Agbogbloshie is a socio-economic and environmental disaster. It is estimated that e-waste dumping in Agbogbloshie will double in 2020. The 40,000 settlers nicknamed this area «Sodom and Gomorrah».

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

As commonly done in Agbogbloshie, Adam Nasara, 25, uses Styropor from refrigerators to light a fire.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

«What you do to get money, is what kills you,» says 20-year-old Idriss Zakarias.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

Adjoa, 9, sells small water bags to the boys. They drink it and also it use to extinguish fires.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

The Odaw river separates Agbogbloshie from Galaway, where people live, trade and work.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

Cows still visit their old grazing grounds and are poisoned by the e-waste.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

Ibrahim Abdulai, 23, is a «chief». No-one is working for him, but he is able to decide who is allowed to burn and who does not in this particular area.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

Old monitors are used to build bridges.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

Some boys believe that drinking a mixture of liquids can protect them from diseases and illness. This one seems to be a combination of syrup and medicine.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

Computers that look like they are in good shape are sold untested to customers in Accra and elsewhere.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

Pieter Adongo, 17, shows a Polaroid of himself and his friends, Desmond Atanga, 17, and Sampson Kwabena, 16.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

«Whenever possible I go to school,» says Rahman Dauda, 12. Dauda started working here three years ago and always burns e-waste with a few friends.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

Agbogbloshie is a playground for Kwabena Labobe, 10. His parents are not able to send him to school and forbid him to burn e-waste.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

The eyes of John Mahama, 21, are twitching. He suffers from insomnia and has debilitating headaches, but continues to work.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

Women from a nearby market sell fruit to the boys and scrap dealers.

/Kevin McElvaney/Al Jazeera

Some boys like Alhassan Adams,19, say they will never burn e-waste and focus their work on collecting tins – metal. They often fall sick with malaria because of the many mosquitos present.

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