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A baseline study into e-waste in Kenya has been launched at a meeting held in Nairobi recently.

The meeting, on November 21 at the Jacaranda Hotel, was organised by the Kenya ICT Action Network (KICTANeT), and attended by over 30 representatives of business, government, the non-profit sector and the media.

The study will be conducted over the next three months, and is being supported by a partnership between Hewlett Packard (HP), the Digital Solidarity Fund (DSF) and the Swiss Institute for Materials Science and Technology (EMPA).

It is one of three being initiated by the partnership, the other two taking place in Tunisia and Morocco. An e-waste pilot project in South Africa is also planned.

The Kenya study will map e-waste volumes in Nairobi, identify stakeholders interested in e-waste in the country, analyse the policy environment affecting e-waste and look at the environmental and social impact of e-waste. It will also develop a roadmap charting the way forward.

KICTANeT, which was responsible for developing the country’s recent ICT Bill, has adopted a participatory approach to the study. It plans to hold a series of stakeholder workshops, beginning with a launch workshop in January, to which a range of dignitaries will be invited. An e-waste network was also launched at the Nairobi meeting, so that participants could continue to share their experiences, and collaborate on the issue.

“One of the issues that KICTANeT had discussed during our strategic meeting was ICTs and the environment,” said Alice Wanjira, the networks co-ordinator. “We are therefore very pleased to have launched this e-waste project in Kenya and look forward to developing this project into a long term key result area for the network.”

The DSF’s Cissé Kane said he was impressed by the level of debate at the meeting, and the enthusiasm and interest shown by participants. “The DSF is very happy to launch the project along with our partners and we hope it will raise more awareness, interest and action from all stakeholders in Kenya and throughout developing world,” said Kane.

The DSF, an African initiative, is one of the outcomes of the recent World Summit on the Information Society held in Geneva in 2003 and Tunis in 2005. It funds ICT for development initiatives throughout the world.

EMPA, which forms the technical support backbone to the project, has been involved in e-waste knowledge sharing across the globe for the past three years, and has worked in countries as diverse as South Africa, India and China. “The stakeholders were extremely motivated to contribute to the process, which is generally a very promising sign for finding a sustainable solution for the e-waste problem in Kenya in the near future,” said EMPA’s Mathias Schluep.

He added that the study comes at a time where the ICT sector in Kenya is burgeoning, and when there is an awareness in the government of the e-waste challenge. “A number of e-waste initiatives have already been established on the ground, and this study will drawn on those experiences,” he said.

The day before the meeting, the project team visited Dandora, the main waste dumpsite in Nairobi, as well as Ngara market, where second-hand and scrap IT is sold. While Dandora suggested that Kenya faces many challenges in its waste management – challenges that are receiving attention from the government – it also suggested that much of the e-waste that is disposed in the country does not reach the dump.

The visit to Ngara, as well as a stop off at an informal scrap metal recycler, suggested that the informal recycling of e-waste is rife. The project team was told that both copper and aluminum were exported to South Africa for smelting.

While it was difficult to get a good sense of e-waste volumes from the site visits, there appeared to be little awareness of the potential hazards of e-waste on the ground. The scrap metal recycler said that cables were frequently burned to recover the copper.

This was in stark contrast to the refurbishment warehouse that has been established a few kilometres from Jomo Kenyatta Airport by Computer for Schools Kenya (CFSK). CFSK is an impressive refurbishment initiative that has processed some 7000 second-hand PCs for use in schools, and is also engaged in innovative projects, such as converting old monitors to TVs.

It is these kinds of experiences that the study will draw on as it develops a clear picture of the status of e-waste management in Kenya.

For more information contact:

Alice Wanjira, KICTANeT co-ordinator: Muruiki Mureithi, KICTANeT