GAIA has more than 60 partner groups from 14 countries in Africa. Many of them are leading grassroots efforts to educate and mobilize citizens and other stakeholders to work toward sustainable waste systems. They are urging governments to stop incinerating waste and to shift to waste prevention systems that conserve resources and enhance environmental justice and sustainable development.
A principal concern for nearly all countries in the continent is the pollution from the stockpiles of obsolete pesticides that threaten the health of communities, especially the poorest rural neighborhoods. An international effort is underway that aims to clear Africa of this toxic legacy and prevent its recurrence. However larger stocks are still anticipated because of incomplete inventory information and the accumulation of additional stocks since the project inception.,
The dumping of e-waste and toxic waste in Africa, another major concern, gained prominence with the disclosure and ongoing dumping of second-hand computers from the USA, Europe and elsewhere in Ghana, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa and other countries. This is compounded by the dumping of tonnes of poisonous chemical sludge in Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). Exposes on e-waste dumping have lead to renewed calls for stringent controls over e-waste dumping and stronger measures to ban trade in hazardous waste.
The burning of hazardous waste in cement kilns and the open dumping and burning of municipal and medical waste also threatens community and environmental health across the continent and destroys resources that could be reused, recycled or composted.
In South Africa, incinerating medical waste remains the norm despite the availability of safer non-burn treatment technologies for disinfecting pathological discards. Incinerators displace the possibility of moving to safer non-burn technologies.
The continent-wide trend of urban population growth is exacerbating the solid waste crisis, as this waste is generally disposed through open dumping and open burning in municipal dumps or open plots of land, threatening community health and destroying resources that could be reused, recycled or composted.
On top of this, small-scale incinerators have proliferated in many African countries to deal with discards from hospitals and clinics. As medical waste is either burned or arbitrarily mixed with municipal waste in dumps, the continent’s residents face yet another major public health and environmental issue.
GAIA’s members in Africa are addressing these challenges in myriad ways. The alliance collaborated with groundWork and Health Care Without Harm to host a civil society workshop in 2002 that involved participants from Mozambique, South Africa and Swaziland. The workshop resulted in the adoption of the Isipingo Declaration on eliminating the harmful impacts of health care waste and incinerators in Southern Africa.
In the same year, GAIA also worked with Earthlife Africa for a highly successful zero waste project at the Global Forum of the World Summit on Sustainable Development in South Africa, where more than 150 NGO Summit delegates from 38 countries also signed a petition urging governments to stop incinerating waste and “to shift to least-cost waste prevention systems that conserve resources and enhance environmental justice and sustainable development.”
GAIA has also organized Africa civil society meetings in Tanzania, and contributed to the groundWork-sponsored consultation in 2007 on South Africa’s proposed waste management bill.
One of the most celebrated victories in the global fight against incinerators took place in South Africa, where proposals for huge hazardous waste incinerators have been defeated through the combined effort of public interest groups, including the Sasolburg Environmental Committee, groundWork, Earthlife Africa, PANeM and GAIA.
An emerging issue for groups working on environmentally responsible health care is the problem of mercury in the health care system. Groups such as groundWork and the Development Indian Ocean Network have been holding workshops since 2008 to address this issue.