Avoidable diseases: As concerns over environmental neglect mount…

For time immemorial, health experts have lamented the neglect of the environment by Nigerians especially through indiscriminate dumping of refuse, deforestation and other activities that often pose hazards to man. Also, it is often an eyesore to see heaps of waste and other dirty items disposed of close to homes which often lead to avoidable health challenges. PAUL OKAH reports.

It was a 17th century Romantic poet, William Wordsworth, who lamented the dangers of man neglecting nature and his environment in pursuit of material wealth and vain things in his famous poem, The world is too much with us, arguing that “we lay waste our powers/little we see in nature that is ours.”

Interestingly, while “cleanliness is next to holiness” is a phrase often used by Nigerians to express the need to keep one’s environment clean at all times, including the admonition by health authorities to maintain good personal hygiene, many homes and streets in the FCT and different parts of the country are littered with waste products that more often than not portend serious danger to the health of residents.

In a chat with Blueprint Weekend, a resident of Kado Kuchi, a settlement in the FCT, a civil servant, Musa Haruna, decried the health risks residents of the area are exposed to as a result of blocked drainages, dirty water cutting across street corners and even dump-sites in different parts of the settlement.

He said: “Kado Kuchi is not a healthy environment for people to live in. If I save up enough money, I will gladly relocate from this area because I am always falling sick alongside my wife and children, as a result of the smell from dirty gutters around the area. This is apart from mosquito bites that lead to our always treating malaria and typhoid.

“Even unplanned houses are not helping matters as people build indiscriminately here, blocking gutters with waste products and competing against one another to litre the environment. Compared to other settlements like Mpape, Gishiri and Jahi, Kado Kuchi is in a class of its own, with regards to how dirty the environment. In fact, the dump-sites behind Next Cash and Carry is a good example of how dirty the environment is as the odiferous smell from the dumpsite welcomes you to the settlement. Only God will help us.”

An expert’s lamentation

Also, in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), an environmentalist and founder of Gaffystone Foundation, an environmental advocacy group, Mr. Gafar Odubote, urged relevant authorities to abolish indiscriminate and illegal dump-sites in urban areas, revealing that diarrhoea, malaria, cholera, tetanus, Lassa fever and other diseases are caused by unhealthy environment, even as he decried the poor attitude of Nigerians to waste management, “which poses great risk to the environment and human health.”

He said: “People’s attitude towards waste management either in rural or urban areas needs to change. We need to be proactive in the waste management process. A walk around urban areas will reveal overflowing dustbins and even commuters throwing waste out of their car windows. We have heaps of open dumps; drainages filled with plastics, leaking septic tanks and untreated landfills.

“This situation keeps escalating as the population increases and as urban dwellers keep on satisfying their impulse to buy without having a rethink on their consumption. When waste is indiscriminately disposed of, it results in unsanitary circumstances that expose humans to health risks such as diarrhoea, malaria, cholera, tetanus, Lassa fever and other health hazards.

“The heap of wastes provides breeding grounds for rodents, mosquitoes and other disease carrying agents, which results in an increasing mortality rate. The indiscriminate dumping of waste was a major cause of drainage problems in the country. We have noticed quite a number of flooding issues in the past as a result of people dumping waste into gutters and rivers hence affecting free flow of water.

“Some properties have been destroyed as a result of uncontrolled burning of refuse dumps, while the fumes give rise to air pollution and offensive odour that causes breathing difficulty. Also, some accidents can be traced to indiscriminate waste disposal. For example, some cars have slammed into heaps of refuse at night, while some children and adults have suffered a number of injuries from broken bottles, flooded roads.

“Therefore, there is a need for people to take responsibility for how they dispose of their waste. A change of attitude to waste management is paramount. We expect a higher level of responsibility from urban dwellers, considering the space limitation, level of exposure, pollution, housing issues and the systems deployed in the cities.

“The starting point in influencing a positive attitude to waste disposal is education and creating advocacy targeted at changing people’s mind-set towards waste. We need to let people know that it is bad to throw something out of your car window and that will make people rethink. The government should invest more on sensitising people on the implications of indiscriminate dumping of refuse.”

AEPB’s warnings

On March 29, during a clean-up exercise organised by the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) at Karimajiji, along Airport Road, the Director of the Board, Dr. Hassan Abubakar, warned FCT residents to desist from open defecation and all types of illegal activities in the FCT or face prosecution as the board will ensure that the FCT environment looked beautiful, adding that the effort would prevent the spread of diseases.

He said: “I am advising the public to desist from this illegal act, but if they refuse to abide by our instructions, we will get them arrested and prosecute them. We have informed them earlier. We have also informed the leadership of the area and they gave us permission to arrest and prosecute anyone caught in such an act.

“My advice to the residents is that when you follow the rules, you will have rest of mind. Once the law is obeyed, you will not have issues with anybody. If you do not want to obey our rules and regulations, you will not rest and AEPB will not rest, because we cannot sit and watch you engage in illegal activities. We are out; we must make sure that we stop all illegal activities.

“All the open defecation they are practising around here, we are ready to arrest and prosecute anyone caught. Our monitoring team will always visit the area. We want to make sure that this place remains clean and neat.

“We are determined; we must not allow people to engage in illegal trading. All the mechanics, hawkers and other illegal activities must stop. This is Airport Road, this area needs to be clean and look very nice so that when our visitors come around from other states or countries, they will know that the FCT environment is clean and healthy.”

FG’s assurances

On June 5, during the 2021 World Environment Day celebration in Osogbo, capital of Osun state, with the theme “Ecosystem restoration: Resetting our relation with nature”, the Minister of Environment, Dr. Mohammad Abubakar, restated the government’s commitment to dealing with the numerous challenges posed by environmental degradation and biodiversity loss resulting from deforestation, desertification, land and ecosystem degradation.

Abubakar said the government, being conscious of the alarming rate of deforestation standing at between 3.7 and 4.0 per cent, had continued to engage stakeholders locally and internationally on the issue, in addition to the formulation of enabling policies and legislations aimed to bring the situation under control.

“Setting the pace, the federal government has made some efforts at all levels of governance to promote resilient environmental sustainability in the context of national development. At the just concluded National Council on Environment, the issue of Nature Based Solution was at the front burner.

“This came as a result of the renewed awareness on its cost effectiveness in the long-term management of ecosystem crises and its potential contribution to the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC). It is also expected to facilitate the national and global targets, including the 2030 development agenda in which Nigeria is already making steady progress.

“This action underscores our determination to achieve the commitment we signed in 2015 to reduce Nigeria’s carbon emissions unconditionally by 20 per cent and 45 per cent conditionally with international support by 2030. The ministry has made tremendous efforts to enhance effective and far-reaching actions to tackle deforestation, drought, desertification, climate change and reduce their impacts on the citizenry and this was done through development of policies and building of institutional and legislative capacity.”