Solar energy has become an important renewable energy for development of people in various aspects of life, but may lead to serious environmental and health effects in the future if its end products are not managed well after use.
In Tanzania, solar is used most by marginalised citizens who are off grid to light their homes and enable them to engage in productive use of energy to maximize income for family and personal development.
According to the Energy Access Situation Report, 2016 Tanzania Mainland released by Tanzania National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and Rural Energy Agency (REA) show that, of all households in Tanzania Mainland, 24.7 percent electrified by solar power and most of them are from rural areas.
With all efforts to improve people’s lives through solar power in the country, the energy may turn to catastrophe in the future, due to poor management of end products of solar equipment including batteries and panels which are disposed of in the soil and water resources.
Disposed solar products and other electronic wastes (E-Wastes) continue to degrade the environment, pollute water threatening the wellbeing of the people.
The Msimbazi river which flows across Dar es Salaam City from the higher areas of Kisarawe in the Coastal region and discharges into the Indian Ocean is the among of places in the country affected by dumping of e-wastes including solar pollutants produced by the city.
As a consequence of the high levels of pollution, the river’s water quality has sharply decreased, and is no longer safe for consumption, domestic uses, or even irrigational uses.
“In the past the river was flowing with water but industrialization has put us in the messy since we can’t use because is so dirty and what we are fearing is our children play along the river,” says Jumanne Juma, a resident of Kigogo ward, whom is house lies few meter from the Msimbazi river.
Juma says some people continue to use water from the river for irrigation activities including gardens of vegetables that put them and city dwellers in serious health problems.
The National E-Waste Statistics Report of Tanzania (NEWSR, 2019) states that e-wastes generated over the years in the country, from about 2,000 tonnes in 1998 to 35,800 tonnes in 2017 that are disposed of in various areas and continually degrade the environment.
Mwanaisha Hamis, a resident of Kigogo ward says she is disrtubed by air pollution resulting from the burning of electronic wastes dumped along the river and sometimes undergoes several coughing and shortness of breath.
“Despite government intervention to clean the river, people still dump and burn used electronic devices which put us into threat to acquire diseases though we have nothing to do,” says Hamis.
HEALTH THREATS POSTED TO PEOPLE
Nakua na Taifa Langu institute Consultant, Dr Joshua Sultan says the material contents including lithium and radioactive in the e-wastes is what poses the threat to human health
“Radioactive materials are prerequisites for genetic alterations and long term effects that sometimes may go unnoticed. Furthermore, they are as well accountable for being carcinogenic (cancer causing) up in the carcinogenic hierarchy,” says Dr Sultan says, who is also a medical doctor.
Dr Sultan insists that constant exposure opens one to these risks though its effects vary in half life.
Continuation of these threats may be as a result of no specific e-waste management policy and law in Tanzania that guide the management and control of e-wastes including solar.
However, e-waste management has been partly addressed in the Environmental Management Act (EMA), which is the principle legislation for environment conservation and protection in Tanzania.
The Act does not provide for explicit obligations on management of e-waste, but includes it collaterally under management of hazardous waste, as result producers and supply don’t feel responsible for the problem.
MEASURES TO BE TAKEN
An independent environmental expert Dr Hellen Otaru says if Tanzania will enact e-waste policy and law will increase accountability to producers and importers of eclectic devices and in turn contribute to environment protection.
Dr Otaru says a better way of managing e-wastes is developing recycling systems which have been successfully implemented in several countries including China.
“Electronic equipment including solar products are highly imported in the country, we need to develop systems that will ensure our environment remains safe,” says Dr Oratu, who is also Chairperson of the Journalists Environmental Association of Tanzania (Jet).
Referring to China, one of the leading producers and consumers of the world’s electric and electronic equipment has started collecting and recycling the e-waste to produce other products.
Awareness on the effects of e-waste to the environment and human health should be created at all levels of governance and the general public by making information available through appropriate means.
Minister of State Union and Environment Mussa Zungu says the government will continue to cooperate with stakeholders and implement existing laws to ensure all environmental pollutants are well managed.
“We need to be careful, educating people on how to keep the environment safe and leave behind all acts that lead to pollution,” says Zungu.
He says that the government will continually review its laws and policies to ensure they fit with existing environmental problems including e-waste.