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A Nation Without Toilets

PostPosted: Wed Jul 05, 2006 8:28 pm
by Richard Akindele
Our cities, even new ones like Abuja, are planned and built as though stones and not human beings with human needs, will inhabit them. Motor parks, markets, public squares and greens are planned and executed as though they exist in isolation of their prospective users.

In many of these places you cannot find access roads, water supply, fire service centres, first aid and police posts and emergency evacuation units.

Contrarily you may find feeding centres and kiosks and other dispensers of refreshments and nourishment. But hardly can you find in many of the nation's public places decent, functioning toilets for users to relieve themselves.

For this, Nigerians suffer the undignified sight of citizens urinating and defecating in open spaces to the embarrassment of onlookers, foreign and local.

No sight or sign is as defining of a people's level of being as that of sane, adult Nigerians openly answering the call of nature without qualms or embarrassment. This is a daily occurrence in all major city centres in the North and South of the country. It has become a culture which colours all our national achievements in the arts, sciences, sport and scholarship in the eyes of the world that Nigeria has strained to positively impress. No one takes anyone with disgusting personal hygiene seriously as civilized beings.

And until planners take the issue of an acceptable personal hygiene seriously, not much can be done in changing the global perception of Nigeria as a nation of brutes.

That is why the recently announced intention of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) to establish 100 mobile toilets in all districts of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) would appear as a step in the right direction.

Much as we applaud the move by Hadjya Hadiza Abdullahi who directs the AEPB, it has to be noted that it is too late in the day for the FCT to be lacking of mobile toilets for that great city.

It is even more disheartening for the FCT to be contemplating an addition of 11 permanent public conveniences under a nebulous public-private partnership arrangement.

For one thing, the indiscriminate defecation in Abuja is said to be most rampant in markets and motor garages in all districts of the FCT. Whether planned or not, relevant FCT municipalities authorised the parks and markets, collected, and still collect, rental fees from operators of these public places. Why cannot the municipalities construct toilets and other human conveniences in return?

This may be demanding too much from those who run our cities. But matters are not better with private builders of residential and commercial buildings who still view the provision of toilets and other waste collection and disposal outlets as luxuries for tenants. Most office buildings have no public/visitor's convenience. Those that are grudgingly provided are appropriated and locked up by officials as status symbols.

The Abuja EPB example may be the way to go for all city planners in the country but it may also be flawed in that permanent residents of cities do not need temporary, but permanent public conveniences as long as the places are open to human use.

In most of the commercialized corners of our major cities where residential buildings have transformed into shops and plazas, Nigerians still suffer the indignity of begging, bribing or paying to relieve themselves, or are compelled to do so in the open streets.

A nation that provides for eating, drinking and production without a thought to the logical waste by-products of its national consumption is a sorry nation indeed.

All organism that ingest and digest food and nourishment must naturally eject the waste products. Even among animals, there is a natural order to waste generation and disposal, which tends to cast doubt over the human naturalness of the Nigerian.

To correct this unflattering national attribute, existing city planning laws must be enforced and where defective, amended and up-graded.

City planning officials that approve of markets and parks without insisting on public conveniences, safety and security out-post must be sanctioned along with contravening operators, developers and builders.

When there are no facilities for such natural, biological activity as defecating and urinating, citizens will do so anywhere and anyhow.

The beginning of environmental sanity will be to ensure that existing planning rules are obeyed and contraveners sanctioned. This is not a matter of who operates the system but that of ensuring that human, natural needs of citizens are respected in national plans.

What goes on in Abuja will be of interest for city planners in other parts of the country. The management of our human and industrial wastes is not a question of who, but of 'how' and 'what' is being managed.

A nation without toilets is a bizarre, unnatural, dysfunctional and, ultimately, non-sustainable entity. The sooner society acknowledged this reality, the better for the nation's waste generation, collection and disposal management. Not on empty, cynical and inchoate proclamations and announcements.

Daily Champion

Towards Effective Waste Management System

PostPosted: Fri Jul 07, 2006 7:14 pm
by Richard Akindele
Over the years environmental sanitation exercises have become part of our lives. On such days, usually Saturdays, we are required to clean up our immediate surroundings. A specially-designated day is also set aside for traders to conduct a cleaning exercise in the markets. The concept behind the sanitation exercise is useful as it promotes the importance of healthy and clean surroundings. But where is the final destination of the waste?

It's not unusual to see heaps of refuse littering the residential areas in many of our cities and towns. The absence of a coherent waste disposal policy has blighted our society for a very long time. This is not to say that attempts have not been made to solve the problem. The inability of the local governments to sort it out and put a system in place once and for all has yielded little results. The evidence is all "pervasive and is proof that efforts to effectively dispose of solid waste hasnt worked.

The involvement of the private sector hasn't always brought the desired results either. For example Lagos State's Private Sector Participation (PSP) Scheme to manage waste took off on a high note and there was a lot of enthusiasm that Lagos once listed as one of the world's dirtiest cities would finally get a facelift. Unfortunately seven years on there was not much reduction in the heights or number of the waste piles in the streets, and it has become clear that the scheme for various reasons was not very successful. This, the State Government admitted in as many words when it indicated last April that it might return management of refuse to the local government councils. Yet we can adopt a much more serious approach to waste disposal and get the desired result.

The lack of an effective waste management system may be part of the general lukewarm attitude towards environmental issues. Inspite of the environmental sanitation exercises we regularly carry out, environmental issues still do not receive the attention they deserve. Yet these issues are key to the growth of any nation. As we see in the advanced nations, environmental "related matters occupy a prime position on the manifestos of virtually all political parties.

They are lined up side by side with other key sectors such as education and health and given just as much prominence. The core activities of political parties such as the Green Party are environmental-related. In Nigeria today none of the main political parties have made care for the environment a major bullet point on their agendas. There are a number of NGOs that focus on these issues but mostly off the back of the crisis in the Niger Delta, while a handful focus on environmental care in its totality. Indeed it somet imes appears as if some aspects of the environment receive more attention than others. Waste management doesn't appear to attract much action within the civil society circles.

The World Environment Day recently held on June 5 was another opportunity to remind us about the importance of creating a safe environment today which can guarantee an environmentally- healthier future. The Federal Government declared June 28 as National Environmental Sanitation Day and activities such as debate and quiz competitions, tree planting, essay competitions etc were held across the country. It is a good sign that awareness is being created in the lives of youths as part of the efforts to get the rest of us to imbibe these important issues. The mainstreaming of environmental issues into the nation's development agenda is one way of ensuring that it gets the attention that it deserves.

Waste management policies are one of the numerous aspects of environmental care and sustainability. As a developing nation, we need to urgently find a solution to the menace of gargantuan refuse heaps as part of our overall commitment towards environmental sanitation as well as focus on other aspects of environmental care. A private sector participation approach to waste disposal can work if it is properly developed and executed and the communities are fully aware of its benefits. Waste management schemes must sufficiently demonstrate that they are self-sustaining, cost-effective and above all people-friendly.

There must be a balance between the commercial and social aspects so that the communities would not be discouraged from making the necessary payments to keep the scheme working. An example lies in the award-winning community-based waste management programme developed by the Ogun State Ministry of Environment. The programme recently won a national award- the Indigenous/ Innovative Environmental Sanitation Award from the Federal Ministry of Environment in commemoration of the National Environmental Sanitation Day for its innovativeness and participatory approach. It is basically a bottom-up approach towards waste disposal. Following on consultations with the community, household waste is collected through the use of a waste contractor who is a member of the community. Service charges for the collection of the waste are determined by the demographics and population density/average income of the communities. A system has been put in place to ensure that the waste gets to the designated final dumpsite - inspectors at the final dump sites issue vouchers to the contractors. The vouchers are used by the contractors to collect their fee from the community. The programme was used as a pilot scheme in Surulere community in Ita-Eko area of Abeokuta is now being implemented in many communities across the State.

The impact on the community, effectiveness and sustainability of the programme is the basis for the national award. Apart from employment opportunities it provides for members of the communities it is a model for a total shift from government initiated waste management to the public-private participation in environmental care. Its sustainability lies in the fact that members of the community are very much interested in keeping their surroundings clean and hygienic and are willing to pay a small fee. Besides there is a sense of ownership of the sanitation project as the members of the community regard themselves as the main beneficiaries both from the perspectives of health/hygiene and employment generation.

The other component of the programme is that it encourages the daily cleaning of the communities as opposed to a once a month cleaning exercise. The philosophy behind this is that environmental sanitation should be observed as a daily routine. This too is a model that may be emulated across the nation with a view to promoting the view that no town, city or community can be clean without the people cleaning their environment regularly.

On a broader perspective the programme demonstrates that waste disposal can no longer be regarded as a social service if any progress is to be achieved. It can be successfully managed from a commercial perspective and still achieve its aim of keeping our cities clean and healthier. Also there is less pressure on government funds and savings made, may be used to finance other development programmes.

Undeniably environmental issues have come to play a crucial part in our lives and our attitudes towards them will largely determine the priority they receive on the nation's development agenda and space they receive in the media. We do not need to be selective about the aspects we choose to champion but adopt an all embracing attitude, participate in the on-going debates and seek lasting solutions that are beneficial to us as a nation.

After so many years of failing to find a solution it is up to us to insist on an effective waste disposal system that would work and finally remove the heaps of garbage from our cities. This would ensure that the attendant negative impact of improper waste management is no longer a part of our health and socio-economic lives.

This Day

Open dumping of waste cause a spread of diseaes

PostPosted: Mon Jul 31, 2006 4:51 pm
by Richard Akindele

PostPosted: Mon Jul 31, 2006 5:01 pm
by Richard Akindele
Why can't Nigeria send brilliant engineers abroad to be trained on how to build these sorts of waste management plants?

Once these people have acquired the necessary training on how to do it, we can then choose a city in Nigeria as a test case. By trying to build a solid waste disposal system this way, the engineers are going to encounter challenges, then they'd go looking for solutions.

Slowly but surely, we'll end up with not only educated engineers, but also experienced engineers who can then be deployed to other cities to do the same thing, or who can even become teachers at our universities to teach more students about the skills needed to accomplish this goal.

Rome was not built in a day. Nigeria needs a lot of things. Unfortunately, we always think in terms of getting ideas implemented right away, instead of planning meticulously for getting it done in future by training people to do it.

Local knowledge is a huge asset to the nation. Paying foreign contractors to do everything for us is not wise at all.