Some victims of last year's toxic waste dumping in Ivory Coast are staging a hunger strike to demand promised government compensation, while others are joining lawsuits. At least 10 people died, and thousands were admitted to hospitals with respiratory problems, following the illegal dumping. Phuong Tran reports from the VOA West Africa bureau in Dakar.
Dozens of hunger strikers are among the victims of hazardous waste dumping in August. They are demanding compensation for their injuries. The chemical waste belong to the dutch-based oil trader, Trafigura. The company has denied all wrongdoing, saying it has entrusted the waste to an Ivorian disposal company, Tommy. The Ivorian company offloaded the waste from a Panamanian-registered tanker.
In a written statement, Trafigura said claims of illegal dumping are baseless.
A meeting last month between victims' associations and President Laurent Gbagbo led to the government's promise of about 80-thousand dollars for the victims and another 50-thousand dollars in medical assistance.
Maury Sise, of the Ivorian non-profit group, Protection and Empowerment of Women and Children, is a coordinator of victims' efforts to seek justice for the illegal dumping.
Sise says the government's initial response to the hunger strike is that the funding has already been set aside for victims who live near the contaminated areas, but that there is a problem with disbursements.
One of those contaminated regions is around Abidjan's largest landfill, located in the suburb of Akouedo. Rachel Gogoua lives less than 500 meters from the dump, but disagrees with the hunger strike tactic. striking for the government money that was promised and that they have not received. We are not part of this effort to get this money. It is not our problem because that money can not do anything for us. It can not cure anybody and would barely help 20 people in my neighborhood."
Instead, Gogoua and hundreds of others are joining lawsuits that will go through European courts to seek compensation from the company, Trafigura.
British lawyer Martyn Day is in Ivory Coast interviewing potential participants in Akouedo for what he hopes will become one of the largest class-action suits to be heard in British courts. "We have a massive multi-national, Trafigura, that absolutely knew the waste aboard its ship was toxic. They bring it to Abidjan to a war torn country with no treatment facilities. I am optimistic still that Trafigura will see sense and try to reach some sort of resolution with us in relation to these claims," he said.
He says he expects to leave Ivory Coast this weekend with nearly 500 lawsuit plaintiffs.
Day says compensation payments may range from two-thousand dollars for each victim with mild injuries to three times that amount for more serious injuries.
This is important for the Akouedo resident Gogoua who opted to seek justice in a courtroom rather than through a strike. "We need chest x-rays, we need blood tests, we need urine tests. What the government is offering is not enough," he said.
In response, Trafigura has filed libel proceedings against Day's firm, Leigh Day and Company, and says it is being wrongfully accused of causing death and environmental damage.
An Ivorian government inquiry found administrative failures and negligence by Port Authority, which allowed the waste to be disposed of in Abidjan.
The poisonous sludge was dumped into more than 15 open-air sites in Abidjan without being treated. Ivorian health authorities say that tens of thousands have reported health problems related to being exposed to the waste, such as vomiting, diarrhea, nosebleeds and breathing problems.