Scavenging for scrap in a hellhole

By Afua Hirsch in Accra

The orange flesh of a papaya is like an oval gash in the landscape at Agbog-bloshie, Ghana's vast dumping site for electronic waste, where everything is smeared and stained with mucky hues of brown and sooty black.

A woman kneels among the carcasses of discarded computer monitors, scooping the fruit's flesh for workers hungry from scavenging to eat.

If the appliances at Agbogbloshie were not being dismantled - plucked of their tiny nuggets of copper and aluminium - some of them could almost be technology antiques. Old VHS players, cassette recorders, sewing machines, computers from the 1980s and since lie haphazardly on large mounds in the dump, which stretches as far as the eye can see.

"Electric waste comes here from all over the world - but especially from Europe," says Karim, 29, who has been salvaging, buying and selling at the dump for 10 years. "We get a lot of health problems here, but we manage, because we need the money."

E-waste dumps increase the risk of land contamination with lead, mercury, cadmium, arsenic and flame retardants.

Deeper into the heart of Agbogbloshie, huge plumes of foul-smelling smoke rise up from three large fires, where the dismantled items are burned to remove traces of plastic, leaving the metal behind.

Agbogbloshie is not just a site for trading, burning and dumping electrical waste; it's also home to thousands of people, who carry on their lives and raise their children in the midst of its filth and fumes.

- Observer

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