By Abdoukarim Sanneh, London, United Kingdom
We love our mobile phones and according to GSMA Intelligence report 2015 mobile industry in Sub Saharan Africa continues to scale rapidly, reaching 367 million subscribers. Accounting firm Deloitte and the GSM Associations in econometric modeling studies on the availability and use of mobile phone service indicated that Mobile Phone in Africa have improved communication, social inclusion, economic activity and productivity in sectors such as agriculture, health and education. Given that the use of mobile phone comes with growth in the economic advancement, there are also latent effects on the environment that need putting in place regulatory procedures for the instillations of mobile phone masks in densely populated neighbours to reduce or mitigate the impact on the people and environment.
During my recent visit to the Gambia and Senegal I observed that there are telecommunication masts everywhere. In United Kingdom and Many European Union Countries there have been lot of debate and protest about instillation of Mobile/ telecommunication infrastructure because United Kingdom Town and Country Planning laws and regulations is decentralised at Local Government level and it is subjected to development permit order, public rights to information and democratic decision making through public participation. Under the European Union Directives because of Public protest about the environmental and health impact of erecting telecommunication masts and base stations especially in densely populated areas are erecting mobile telecommunication mast can be subjected Environmental Impact Assessment.
Under EU Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA Directive 85/337/EEC and amended Directive 97/11/EC) telecommunication masts falls under Annex I or Annex II project. According to this directive, the developer before the instillation of the telecommunication masts should conduct Environmental Impact Study and part of which public consultation. Environmental Impact Assessment is not science and it is does not involved scientific experimentation design. It is a project management tool and a process of information gathering in order to determine or forecast what the likelihood of the project will have on the people and their environment. It involves standard procedures such as scoping, baseline study, public consultation etc.
I don’t know what regulatory regimes are in place to control the instillation of this equipment in both the two countries. For example in the Gambia, do the National Environment Agency been the advisory body of the Gambia Government on environmental matters knows the effect of telecommunication masts on the people’s and their health? Do they have put in place any environmental standard procedures as an environmental management tool which telecommunications providers such as Africell, Comium, QCell and Gamcell should follow especially in the area of environmental impact assessment before the establishment of more telecommunication mast infrastructures in all part of the country? From Banjul, Serekunda, Brufut, Sukuta, Bijilo, Brikama, Bakau and other part of the country, tall masts it becomes part of the visual scenery. In my conversation in a telecommunication engineer (name withheld) it comes clear to that mobile telephone operators/providers do not need to obtain the necessary environmental impact assessment before erecting these telecommunication masts.
Mobile phone transmission masts are characteristics of waves of electromagnetic fields associated with high voltage flow that can cause electromagnetic radiation due to high exposure electromagnetic frequency. Exposure to electromagnetic radiation has lot of health implications. A survey study conducted in France using questionnaire conducted by Santini. R et al (2002) on investigation on the health of people living near mobile telephone mast relay station found a variety of self-reported symptoms for people that are living near a these telecommunication masts in both rural and urban areas. Different epidemiological research indicated that people living in places where telecommunication masts are erected are vulnerable to disorder like cancer, lung diseases, sleep disturbance and even physical disabilities but according to World Health Organisation there is no current scientific proofs of health hazards associated with telecommunication masts.
In the event of scientific uncertainty about the health impact of telecommunication mast, the Gambia National Environment Agency should put in place the precautionary principles and cautionary policies that regulate maelstrom of Telecommunication masts especially in densely urban areas. Conditioning Mobile Telephone Companies/Operators before erecting telecommunication mast to conducted environmental impact assessment are one method of strict application of precautionary principles. Tall mast has becomes part of the environment and seemingly every mobile telephone operators had put its own masts without no planning regulation or public consultation. There should be effective dialogue between National Environment Agency, Communities and Mobile Telephone Companies in decision on where masts should be located. Similarly, policies of co-locating antennas owned by all the operators on a single mast and where possible, locating the masts away from schools is used in United Kingdom as a prudent approach that the industry mainly take in response to public concern. We love our mobile phone but I hope the government put in place some form of regulation to mitigate and reduce human exposure electromagnetic radiation generate from these telecommunication mast. There are telecommunication masts everywhere and needs some form of regulation.