Nigeria Grassroot News Reporter, Peace Oladipo visited Omu Aran Community in Kwara State to uncover how the practices of open defecation and improper waste disposal affect businesses and health status of the residents in the community. Her findings reveal that despite the existing laws on waste management in the State, residents of the local communities still defecate openly and litter the environment with no pragmatic sanction on environmental offenders.
On July 4th, 2022, this reporter visited the community where she met a local and distressing provision store owner at the Government Reserve Area of Omu-Aran district, Mrs. Ola Yemisi who was raining slurs and curses on people defecating behind her shop. Many times, the middle-aged woman’s customers have made complaints about the terrible condition of her store setting and the woman has called on the government and the residents of the community to knock their awful act off but the perpetrators who enjoy the twisted ways of evil are yet to stop.
Consequently, the endless terrible odor in Mrs. Yemisi’s shop had driven many customers away from her. Despite efforts made to stop the people, the wings of the ‘big eagles’ continue to grow bigger without any sign of contrition from the perpetrators to come. Yet, the health implication of open defecation and inappropriate waste disposal remains a big threat to human health and climate change.
The Existing Laws on Offenders
Despite the Environmental Sanitation law of 2004 that complements the Kwara State Environmental Protection Agency of 1992 on the management and control of solid waste. The law was created to ensure sanitary conditions in residential and public places in the State. It also prohibits indiscriminate dumping of wastes along the highways, roads, channels, gorges, and vacant lands except at designated refuse disposal sites approved by the Kwara State Protection Agency.
The law makes it mandatory for all vehicles and containers used in transporting or conveying wastes to be secured and covered in such a way that the contents do not litter the road. The law also provided that all waste from markets, restaurants, schools, shops, religious premises, and other commercial institutions should be packed in plastic waste bags or tightly covered dustbins before disposal. The law provided that any person who contravenes or fails to comply with the provision of the law shall be guilty of an offense and shall upon conviction be liable to fines ranging between N500.00 (Five hundred naira) and N10000.00 (Ten thousand naira).
About 46 million Nigerians still defecate in the open. Kwara, Ebonyi, and Plateau were ranked the highest in the country, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, (UNICEF) data, which estimated that 23.5 percent of the population indulge in the act of open defecation.
Nigeria, with a population of over 215.87 Million people generates about 32 Million tons of solid waste per year. 1.15 Million tons generated are plastic wastes, which are illegally dumped in open spaces including drainages, and disposed off with hazardous wastes such as health care wastes in dumpsites and burnt openly with an estimated 340 thousand tons ending up as marine litter. Much of this solid waste generates litter causing environmental pollution such as blocking drainages causing flooding and air pollution. Recently, Kwara State was listed among the 32 states prone to flood through the Annual Flood outlook made by the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NHISA)
A report also revealed that diarrhoeal disease deaths in Nigeria reached 144,724 or 9.77% of total deaths. The age-adjusted death rate is 78.99 per 100,000 of the population ranking Nigeria #13 in the world. Meanwhile, 76 percent of Nigeria’s population are estimated to be at risk of malaria by living in high transmission areas, areas vested with waste. Also, Nigeria accounts for 27 percent of malaria cases worldwide and the highest number of deaths (24 percent) due to malaria in 2019 (World Malaria Report, 2020).
We Do Not Have Toilets – Environmental Offenders
.A reserved area used for open defecation and dumping of wastes in the Omi-Oko Area, Omu-Aran. PC: Peace Oladipo
On a visit to Igangu and Omi-Oko area communities, this reporter met with some environmental offenders, three women who reside in the community that admitted they commit open defecation because they have no toilet.
One of the women who pleaded anonymity disclosed that the majority of them defecate openly in bushes because their landlord does not have the money to construct a proper toilet for them.
Reacting to the question of being caught and being punished for open defecation, the women disclosed that they do not drop refuse or defecate where environmental health officers will notice. “Children are the ones usually seen defecating in the open places, ” one of them said.
However, Arowolo who also indulges in open defecation despite having a toilet in his house discloses that he derives pleasure defecating in the nearby bushes. “I just like excreting in the cool breeze of the morning in a small bush, ” he said.
Environmental Officers Are Needed
A blocked gutter as a result of improper waste in Abusi, Omu-Aran. PC: Peace Oladipo
Arogundade Isaiah who lives in the C.A.C Area of Omu-Aran also complained about the elevated rate of waste mismanagement in the environment.
Isaiah became infuriated with how those living across the streets dump refuse inside the gutters whenever it is raining leaving his family with no choice but to engage in mandatory community service by taking care of the waste themselves.
He added that the absence of environmental officers who inspect houses and punish environmental offenders as what is missing, and that, according to him, has aggravated the open defecation because there is no one to restrain their actions.
“When we were younger, our parents used ‘wole wole’ environmental officers to scare us but now, I don’t think there is anything called ‘wole wole’ or probably they are inactive,” he added.
Findings made by this reporter revealed that core parts of the community are polluted by waste and open defecation especially in Igangu Area, Ile NLA, Omi-Oko, and a few other areas.
An environmentalist who is also a lecturer of Environment Management at Ekiti State University, Olusola Johnson disclosed that the planet is suffering from improper waste disposal which has led to global warming and climate change that is consequently causing extreme weather conditions, evident in Europe, Pakistan, and even flooding in Nigeria.
He said, “When the waste is not properly managed, it causes land pollution. In Nigeria here, what we call landfill is not landfill, they are just mere dump sites. When waste is released into dumpsites, they contaminate the land. Plastics are produced through different chemical reactions. And a normal plastic can take about five hundred years to be decomposed, talk less of thousands of plastics. They release toxins into the land.
“Water pollution, these wastes percolate into the soil and go straight into water bodies which cause retrofication. This reduces the amount of sunlight going into the water bodies, oxygen is being deprived, the fishes and other marine die and smell which leads to water pollution.”
The lecturer also pleads with Nigerians to stop using plastics for food packaging but use traditional means like leaves which are biodegradable. He mentioned landfills, reduction of plastics, waste sorting, government policies, and how metal scrap pickers and selling it off will make things right.
“Landfills that are properly managed. Reuse the plastic bottles, you can use the plastic bottles to build houses that will be very strong. When there is a strong legal backup, I think we can manage our waste well. Advocacy will help, people must be given awareness on how to manage waste. The government must bring in enabling policies. The metal scrap pickers (Boola) who pick things on the streets are aiding reusing in the environment, ” he added.
A resident in Governments Reserve Area (GRA), Abraham Yakubu while speaking to this reporter suggested that ‘refuse points’ should be created in the community as seen in modernized places for the residents to dump their wastes which sewage trucks will eventually carry for a proper disposition of the waste.
Implications Of Open Defecation, Waste Management on The People.
Philip Obayan, a public health expert emphasized that there are countless negative impacts of waste mismanagement on public health.
“Mosquitoes and rats are known to live and breed in sewage areas, and both are known to carry life-threatening diseases. Mosquitoes breed in cans and tires that collect water and can carry diseases such as malaria and dengue. Rats find food and shelter in landfills and sewage, and they can carry diseases such as Lassa fever, ” he said.
Another public health expert, In-Charge of the Omu-Aran Community program, Aondowase Nahson rated the practice of waste management in the Omu-Aran community as ‘very poor. He said cholera, diarrhea, and vomiting break out as a result of waste mismanagement which increases the mortality rate in society, flies travel long distances from the dirty places to the neatest in the community.
“When I just arrived here, I had to take care of the surroundings of the clinic. You will see leather full of shit. A sack filled up with shit was dumped in a small bush close to the clinic. Some houses don’t have toilets so they defecate in the gutters. In some areas, you can not pass because of open defecation. You have to hold your nose when you are passing some areas. There is improper waste management of markets in the community even though food items are open for display advertising in the market stalls making food items poisonous, ” he recounts his experience.
Aondowase added that there is a need for public health experts to preach the gospel of environmental sanitation in their local dialect for better and more impactful communication.
A Visit to Irepodun Secretariat
This reporter also visited the Irepodun Secretariat, where the office of the Environmental health officers is situated.
Mrs. Aladeniyin Ruth Mosunmola, who is the sectional head of environment health workers in Irepodun local government revealed that the local government employed people to transport waste but that funding has stopped the waste carriage scheme. “We know the climate is changing, but in Irepodun here, we do not have the money to take enough care of the environment.”
Another environmental health worker who pleaded anonymity said that the shortage of staff is a major reason their operations are considered ineffective.
“In the whole of Irepodun local government, we only have 15 environmental health officers. Omu Aran is wide, I can not check every house in it. We depend on people’s reports most of the time. Also, the fund is not there, the local government is willing but the financial capacity is not there. The fear that grips people when they say environmental officers is no longer there because our society is bigger and they have resources unlike now.”
The officer noted that before they punish any offender, they health-educate and explain the need for environmental cleanliness, he also emphasized the need for funding for the body to perform its duty excellently well.
“We are too small, the specification of the World Health Organization (WHO) says that one environmental officer should man a hundred people. Now compare the population of Irepodun and Kwara state. The staff is retiring and new staff is not coming in, making the work cumbersome, ” he added.
Kwara State Ministry Of Environment’s Position
The Deputy Director of Kwara state ministry of environment, Abayomi Idowu while reacting said the Kwara state government has engaged social waste contractors who are in charge of the waste disposal from the metropolis.
“We have commercial waste contractors that go into houses to collect waste and charge them a token at the end of the month, ” he said, adding that open defecation is a habit the state government has been trying to restrain but people are already used to.
“The majority of those who engage in open defecation do not have toilets. In Ilorin, the government has provided about 11 toilets located in strategic places and collected a token from the users. We intend to extend the tentacles of this to other areas of the state.
“We have also embarked on sensitization for the people to know about the importance of toilets. Even when some people have toilets in their homes, they still defecate openly because of some traditions. We sensitize them through the use of radio, television, and megaphones, We also embark on defaults, he noted.
In response to the inertness and dormancy of the environmental health workers, he said there are environmental health workers at the state and local government level but the problem according to him is that they are very few when compared to the population of the people they are expected to control.
Abayomi further pleaded for the recruitment of environmental health officers by state and local governments.