Tuesday, August 3, 2010

The Kenyan Situation

Africa Review|The East African|Daily Nation|NTV|NTV Uganda|Daily Monitor|The Citizen|N-Soko
Wednesday
August 4, 2010

COMPANY INDUSTRY
Kenya comes face-to-face with ICT waste

The Ministry of Information and Communications has started campaigns to reduce dumping of used electronic goods.

By Paul Wafula

Posted Wednesday, August 4 2010 at 00:00
Kenya is courting an environmental disaster from increased electronic scrap (e-waste) unless it quickly sets up rules to curb importation of the products.

The International Telecommunication Union warns that the rate at which electronic waste is growing poses a danger unless manufacturers change direction or governments take a firm stand.

Locally, the National Environment Management Authority (Nema) has been pushing for measures to educate users on the dark side of ICT growth.

A 2008 study indicated that Kenya generated 3,000 tonnes of electronic waste from computers, monitors and printers in 2007.

Computer for Schools Kenya, an NGO, says e-waste grows at a rate of about four per cent in a year, which is three times higher than the general waste.

The transition to digital TV broadcasting is expected to compound the problem in Africa while concerns have been raised that donations of second-hand computers is pushing Kenya to the edge.

Kenya is at the verge of an ICT revolution that has seen mobile phones selling for as low as Sh1,000.

However, what is worrying environmentalists is where the old computers, mobile phones, and television sets are taken when new models replace them.

As it is, they end up in landfills or incinerators, meaning that toxic substances like lead, cadmium and mercury used in manufacturing contaminate land, water, and air.

E-waste containing toxic chemicals and heavy metals that cannot be disposed of or recycled makes up five per cent of all municipal solid waste worldwide.

In the past 10 years, African governments have been preoccupied more with universal access to telecoms services without paying equal attention to the impact on the environment.

Information and Communications Minister Samuel Poghisio told an ITU meeting that the short lifespan of mobile handsets and desire to keep up with the latest trendy handsets compound the problem.

According to Ms Judith Katona, the representative and counsellor of ITU, Kenya and the continent at large should not allow the growth of the ICT sector to be at the expense of the environment.

“The fruits of our high-tech revolution are pure poison if these products are improperly disposed of at the end of their useful life,” said Ms Katona.

Although there are environmental laws in Kenya that hold to account those generating toxic waste, and with the failure to comply with disposal standards carrying a penalty of Sh500,000 or a prison term of 18 months, Kenya continues to face environmental and health problems due to indiscriminate, unregulated and trade in electronic waste.

However, the government will find it difficult to fight e-waste at a time when it is striving to meet universal access policy objectives that encourage importation of electronic gadgets in the country.

“We are in the process of strengthening the type of approval function within our national regulatory bodies to bar the entry of sub-standard equipment into our markets,” said Mr Poghisio.

The fight against e-waste got another blow after the Finance minister ignored the Ministry of Information’s push for a ban on importation of used computers and encourage local computer assembling.

The ban plan has been strongly opposed by sector players, saying the government should come up with a long-term legal framework to address the issue.

However, the Information PS, Dr Bitange Ndemo, says over the years a number of government incentives have led to dropping of prices of new computers which defeats the need to import used computers whose life span is shorter.

Compared to new computers, whose life span can go for up to eight years depending on use, the second hand versions can take only three years.

“The organisations shipping in used computers are actually being paid to get them out of source countries but are disguising themselves as donors assisting Kenyan schools,” said Dr Ndemo.

On the global scene, some manufacturers have begun to assume greater responsibility for what happens with their products after they become obsolete.

Dell, HP, and Gateway have programmes to collect old computer equipment. But this is yet to take root in Kenya.

The Basel Action Network, an American watchdog that has sought to curb the export of toxic electronic material from the United States, has set up a new certification and auditing programme for recyclers and companies that generate electronic refuse.

Urgent implementation

In addition to outlining safe domestic handling and disposal practices for old television sets, computers and other electronic equipment, the system would effectively ban participating recyclers from exporting toxic, non-functional electronic waste to developing nations.

For over three years now, policy makers have been toiling to craft an e-waste policy as pressure from environmental experts mounts for the Government to issue guidelines on dealing with this phenomenon.

Watchdogs are warning that only urgent implementation of laws and policies will cover Africa from being turned into a dumping ground for electronic goods manufacturers.