Oserah Clement Ebhomiele
Solid waste management has been a major challenge to authorities, the world over. And in Nigeria, the case is pathetic because of the ever increasing population. Though there are contradictory figures of the population of Nigeria with some pegging it at 150 million while others say it is 170 million, one knows Nigeria has a very large population as it is estimated to be the seventh most populated country in the world. With a high fertility rate, the country’s population is expected to also quadruple in the next 50 years.
Since an increasing level of solid waste is believed to proportional to the increase in population, a major question to ponder about is how prepared Nigeria is in the management of solid waste. How does the country currently manages it? How pro-active is the country in this regard?
In the last decade, the rate of refuse generation has grown exponentially in major parts of the country and every open space has been turned to refuse dump, undermining the resultant effects of unsightliness, unpleasant odour, flooding and health hazards.
It is therefore of utmost importance that Nigerians should be educated as to the impending risks associated with this trend not only to the individual but also to the general health of the country. Some states, Lagos for example, constantly maintains an enlightenment programme to draw the attention of its residents to the consequences of their actions. Though still slow, the consciousness is registering gradually in the psyche of the individual residents.
One major hazard associated with indiscriminate refuse disposal is cholera and it often degenerates into an epidemic. The World Health Organisation estimates 100,000 to 120,000 cases of deaths each year due to cholera, the reason being that the causative bacteria, “Vibrio cholerae” cause an infected person to vomit and stool incessantly
leading to Osmotic imbalance and electrolyte loss, severe dehydration and within hours, death. The worst is that the disease is highly communicable. It could be contracted through oral or faecal contact, that is contact with either the vomit, stool and other body fluid of an infected person because the main reservoir of the virus are people and aquatic sources and these are expected to grow as global warming creates a favourable environment for the bacteria.
Another imminent risk of refuse dumping is that dumping grounds are favourable breeding places for mosquitoes whenever it rains.
It is ironical that one of the most dangerous creatures on earth capable of causing up to 300 million cases of malaria each year and between one to three million deaths owes its existence and growth to humans.
Apart from health risks to humans, indiscriminate refuse disposal poses danger to other forms of life- the wildlife and aquatic- via pollution created by these refuse.
To the immediate environment, refuse especially non-biodegradables like Sachet water (pure water), cans, broken utensils, nylons, tires, etc, causes drainages to swell and the landscape teem with them causing flooding which makes the land barren as these pollutants prevent microbial activities from taking place even after many years because they do not decompose.
When subjected to burning, refuse produces very harmful greenhouse gases like carbon monoxide; nitrous and carbon dioxide; and also give out an offensive odour.
The issue of bodily harm, injuries caused by broken bottles in the refuse underscores the need for proper refuse disposal. These sharp objects can also transmit deadly diseases like HIV/AIDS, apart from the fact that they create breeding sites for vermin, described as pests or nuisance animals, especially those that threaten human society by spreading diseases or destroying crops and livestock.
It is therefore paramount for the government at all levels to put in place the necessary apparatus to, not only dispose these refuse but persist in educating the people and sanctioning offenders. Although some have taken step towards that direction, like it has been mentioned earlier, efforts need to be doubled to educate and sensitise the people as research has proven that the leading cause of indiscriminate refuse disposal is directly linked to ignorance and poverty level. If these can also be tackled squarely, then the other issue to address is the proper disposal of these refuse.
A good way of disposing refuse is through recycling the biodegradables in which they are used to create other products like fertilizers while the non- biodegradables like plastics are used to produce new polymer products. This way, the environment as well as public health would be protected. In this case, refuse dumping sites exclusively for each types of refuse would be created and burning of refuse would be a penal offence.
At this juncture, the mass media in conjunction with governmental and non-governmental organisations should continually churn out newsworthy items, conduct seminars and any other form of public enlightenment campaign aimed at curbing this ugly trend where the people dig their own graves gradually.
Rural campaigns should also be encouraged and experts with the knowledge of transformation of wastes to finished valuable products should be encouraged and assisted in every way possible because it is only through the collaboration of everyone and the government that public health can be safeguarded and guaranteed.
Ebhomiele is a a Mass Communication student at the University of Benin.
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