"THE HELL OF COPPER"

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 "Over the past few years, Ghana has become one of the main countries to receive electrical waste materials coming from Europe and the United States. In “The Hell of Copper” I wanted to be as precise as possible, not showing my images for what they depict, but for what they transmit. These thousands of used computers have dramatic consequences for the environment and the health of the workers.

THE HELL OF COPPER BY NYABA OUEDRAOGONYABA OUEDRAOGO
THE HELL OF COPPER
2008
Photography
Edition of 5 + 2 AP
50 x 90 cm

In Accra, the capital of Ghana, a retail chain has been established around the “e-waste” traffic. It is an illegal but tolerated business since it generates a lot of money. Ghanaians living in Europe and the United States collect used computers and send them by boat to the port of Tema, where wholesalers buy up the stock. Then, the machines are sent to Accra where buyers purchase them and ask children to burn them. The copper collected is then resold to Nigerians or Indians who transform it mostly to make jewels to be sold cheaply in Europe. 

In the world, there are various cemeteries for computers (Nigeria, Vietnam, India, China, the Philippines) like the one at the Aglobloshie Market. According to the UN, up to 50 million tons of electrical and electronic waste are thrown away in the world every year. Thus, the garbage of the rich poisons the children of the poor.

DISASTROUS WORK CONDITIONS

The dump at the Aglobloshie Market spreads over 10 kilometers. From dawn to dusk, dozens of young Ghanaians, from 10 to 25 years of age, exhaust themselves doing this, seven days a week. Their mission is to disassemble the old computers and burn certain plastic elements or rubber components to cull the precious copper, which will then be sold. Everything is done by hand or with iron bars, makeshift tools found among the refuse. They have neither masks nor gloves. There are not even any functioning toilets.

A HEALTH AND ENVIRONMENTAL CATASTROPHE 

The children of the Aglobloshie Market are exposed to substances and materials that are particularly harmful to their health, which Greenpeace analyzed in a report published in 2008:

- lead: found primarily in the cathode tubes and monitors. It can harm the nervous, reproductive, and circulatory systems.

- mercury: found in flat screens. It can harm the nervous system and the brain, especially in young children.

- cadmium: found in computer batteries. This toxic product is dangerous for the kidneys and the bones.

- PVC: when burned, this plastic used to insulate electrical wires gives off carcinogenic chemical substances that can cause respiratory, cardiovascular and dermatological problems.

Toxic substances created by their combustion also contaminate the water and the ground of the dump, which cows and sheep use for pasture among the carcasses of computers.

The planet and its citizens live through electronic devices. Now people have to understand the injustices and the sad environmental and human consequences of our global electronic economy."

NYABA OUEDRAOGO