Waste Management and Health: Nigeria’s Quest for Sustainability

Azuka onye April 28, 2011

By Azuka Onye

Photo credit: United Nations Envronment programme

Nigeria is the most populous country in Africa with a population of 120 million people and counting. It is also one of the most beautiful countries in the continent. It is a West African country that is at the center of the international community. Nigeria has given rise to numerous noteworthy individuals, including Activist and Musician, Fela Kuti, Novelist and Poet, Chinua Achebe, journalist, Dele Giwa and poet/songwriter, Uche Nduka.

Anyone who has gone to Nigeria can attest to its beauty, rich history, and culture. However, while much has improved there is still a need for change.

In 1996, 30 million people were defined as extremely poor compared to only 4 million in 1980. Urban poverty is on the rise and is severe when compared to other countries.

It is no news that the health of an individual is directly correlated to the state of sanitation of that individual’s environment. In fact, improving the environment of a community  also means improving the health of the individuals living in the community.

The issue of how to manage waste is a highly debated topic in Nigeria. There is no comprehensive strategy on sanitation, including the treatment of waste and how to dispose of it. The federal, state and local governments have failed to develop and implement unified waste management policies. The mindset amongst the poor is that waste management is an “elitist” concept.

Clogged drains are a huge problem in Lagos, Port Harcourt, Calabar and Kaduna, all highly populated cities in Nigeria. This can lead to groundwater contamination with an end result being illnesses and the spread of various diseases.

There are also numerous amounts of trash and hundreds of junked vehicles that include disabled hauling trucks waiting for repair. There is no formal waste separation in many of the urban areas.

The causes of the problems associated with waste management in Nigeria include but are not limited to increasing urban populations, an increase in poverty, lack of education, rapid industrialization, increases in waste generation, and no incentives to service poor suburban settlements with the result that wastes are dumped anywhere. Waste in Lagos alone has been estimated to be above 4.5 million tons annually.

Currently in Nigeria, a small percentage of urban sewage is treated.

“The wealthier neighborhoods are covered by a centralized system. Poorer neighborhoods do not have the facilities necessary for waste management, and waste is intermittently collected in poorer neighborhoods. To get rid of the waste, open fires on trash dumps are used instead of incineration.”

Ndubuisi Ugah
According to the Federal Republic of Nigeria’s Water Supply & Sanitation Interim Strategy Note, sanitation units have been transferred from the Ministries of Health and Works and Housing to the Ministry of Environment. Municipalities under the oversight of the state were responsible for solid waste management. The state, however, transferred responsibility to Local Government Agencies (LGAs). Despite these changes there is still no clear and effective framework for waste management. LGA leaders find it easier to ignore the needs of the poor than raise taxes for the much richer and more powerful constituents.

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) are eight international development goals that 189 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015. One of the goals is to ensure environmental sustainability by integrating the principles of sustainable development into country policies and programs. The hope is that achieving sustainability will reverse loss of environmental resources, biodiversity, and the proportion of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation by 50% by 2015. By 2020, they hope to have achieved a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million people around the world.

 Can Nigeria meet this goal? According to UNICEF’s chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Program,
“Nigeria’s water supply and sanitation system are the lowest in Africa. Recent studies have shown that Nigeria is not striving to achieve the sanitation MDG target. The country needs to increase its performance by 160 percent to achieve the target.”

According to AfricaNews.com, The Federal Government in Nigeria will introduce integrated management facilities in 15 urban cities in response to the declaration of 2008 as the International Year of Sanitation. The goal of the International Year of Sanitation is to help raise awareness of the worldwide sanitation crisis and hopefully accelerate progress towards reaching the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG’s) and cutting the number of people without access to basic sanitation in half by the year 2015. The Ministry of Environment, Housing and Urban Development will be organizing the program with the Environmental Health Officers Registration Council of Nigeria.

Both education and socioeconomic factors play key roles in waste management. In Nigeria people with money have access to good, clean and sanitary conditions and people who do not basically live in squalor. Improvements must be made in compliance and accountability of administrative agencies in Nigeria in order to achieve the 2015 goal of achieving a significant improvement in the lives of at least 100 million people around the world. The key to improving the health of the global community is prevention. Access to resources as simple as clean water and food can improve the health of millions of people.

Last Edited by: Updated: September 12, 2018


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