© 2018 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Abuja drainages brim with refuse, dirty water… but who cares?
ABUJA is the capital city of Nigeria, and it is attracting more people – and dirt that puts the health of the residents at risk.
Drainages in different districts are clogged with a mass of wastes, and stinking water that flows sometimes from sewers into the road, oozing unpleasant odour.
Victor Abu lives in Michael Okpara Street, located at Wuse Zone 5, one of the semi-highbrow districts of the Federal Capital City. He has developed a rather awkward habit of spitting at every short interval when walking in the neighbourhood.
On his street, there is a long concrete drainage, parts of which are filled with slimy polythenes bag, plastic bottles and other waste materials. The concrete slabs are broken, and dirty water seeps into the road.
Abu said the fetid odour coming out of the drainage nauseates him and makes him spit at regular interval whenever he passes the road.
“I don’t like bad smell, it irritates me,” he said. “Whenever I perceive an offensive odour, I find it hard to swallow saliva.”
Apart from Wuse, overflowing drainages can also be found in other highbrow areas of the Abuja city centre such as Asokoro, Maitama, Utako and Garki.
The ICIR observed that drainages in the main districts of the city were poorly maintained, causing a poor sanitary condition that poses danger to people’s health.
The situation is worse in the suburbs of the federal capital because majority of the areas do not have a well-constructed drainage system.
Samson Usman, a cab driver who also lives at Michael Okpara Street, Wuse Zone 5, said once it rains, the roads become almost impassable for humans and automobiles.
“I don’t think it is normal for the gutter to be like this. If rain should fall, you will see water flowing to the road, unclean water containing faeces and urine,” he said.
Usman, however, said that the problem is made worse by the people who dump refuse inside the drainages. “Some people will never care about using a waste bin. They will prefer to throw dirt inside the gutter,” he said.
When The ICIR reporter visited Yakubu Gowon Crescent in the Asokoro District of Abuja, there was open drainage along the street which has become an eyesore to people passing the place. Part of the drainage was blocked and the channel was filled to the brim with stagnant water covered with algae and waste materials.
However, the poor condition of the place did not stop commercial activities around the street. Traders interviewed in the area said they just had to ignore the stench since they were there to make money.
A taxi driver, who gave his name simply as Kenneth, was seen enjoying his meal of snacks and a bottle of Coke while resting on the back of his car which was directly facing the drainage. When asked how comfortable he was eating right amidst the stench, Kenneth said he was used to it.
“You know the kind of hustle we dey hustle now, there is no place you no go fit sit down chop,” he said in pidgin.
Health experts say eating in a dirty environment makes one prone to contracting all kinds of diseases as flies and other germ-carrying organisms are found more in such an unhealthy environment.
“The WHO states that houseflies are carriers of diarrhoeal diseases, skin and eye infections,” said Laz Udeze, Executive Director, Pink Oak Cancer Trust, a non-governmental organisation that provides advocacy on cancer awareness.
“The housefly carries disease-causing organisms and can transmit up to 65 different types of disease s including cholera, typhoid, leprosy, tuberculosis, conjunctivitis and dysentery,” he said.
Residents and small business owners along the street also said the clogged gutter usually causes flooding whenever it rains.
“Since I know this area, it has been over two years now, water cannot flow. When it rains too much, there is no road to pass,” Kenneth said.
Efa, a newspaper vendor, had his kiosk almost covered with stagnant water. He told The ICIR that he takes extra care so as not slip into the water— “I have to watch my steps carefully,” he said.
In the popular Area 1 shopping complex in the Garki District of Abuja, the drainages are as clogged as they are in Wuse Market area.
Even the drainage in front of the headquarter building of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) at Wuse Zone 7, was filled with refuse.
When The ICIR visited Berger on April 24, drainages in the area have been turned to refuse dump. The situation was the same at Utako and Wuse Zone 6 areas.
Impacts of blocked drainages
The National Secretary of the Nigerian Environmental Society, John Harry, said asides from flooding, dirty water resulting from blocked drainage channels could contaminate even the sources of drinking water.
“Once you block the natural path where water can pass, what it would result to is flooding,” Harry said.
“Stagnant water has the capacity to go down into the soil and even affect groundwater, and if anyone comes to drink the contaminated water, the consequence would be water-borne diseases.”
Laz Udeze, a public health analyst, agrees.
“The natural water bodies get more polluted and may lead to an outbreak of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, Hepatitis A or E and worm infections or water-washed diseases like skin and eyes infections,” he said.
Udeze also pointed out that stagnant water in open drainages serves as a breeding ground for mosquitoes which could lead to malaria and Yellow Fever.
According to the latest World Malaria Report released in November 2018, Nigeria accounted for 25 per cent of the 219 million cases of malaria incidents and 19 per cent of malaria deaths, globally in 2017.
The Institute of health metrics and evaluation reports that malaria is the fourth leading cause of death in Nigeria as of 2017.
David Mike Terungwa, Executive Director of Global Initiative for Food Security and Ecosystem Preservation introduced another angle to the menace of blocked and overflowing drainages in the environment.
“Poor drainage is a traffic safety risk,” he said. “Water may accumulate on the road like ponds. A wet surface reduces friction which leads to longer braking distances and put motorist at risk of colliding with other vehicles.”
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) in its National Contingency Plan, listed flooding among some of the trigger events that can lead to washed away roads and collapsed bridges.
Poor environmental sanitation culture
Chukwuma Smart, the President of Climate Transformation and Energy Remediation Society, said drainages are supposed to be cleaned up at least once a month to maintain a sanitised environment.
“We have what is called clean-up exercise in Nigeria which is being done every month. If a community decides to engage in cleaning exercises like two times in a month it is better,” he said.
Smart also included that people should avoid dumping refuse in the drainages thinking “rain will flush it”. He advised Abuja residents to discontinue such an attitude.
Lack of funds hinders proper maintenance – Abuja council
Niyi Olaloye is the Director of the Facility Maintenance and Management (FMM) department under the Abuja Metropolitan Management Council. In an interview with The ICIR, he blamed the poor habit of Abuja residents.
“We have drainages that are blocked, and it is because people are abusing the use of the drainages,” he said.
“People defecate inside the drainage. If you should go to the Area 1 shopping complex all the men selling suya there, they don’t have toilets. That is where they defecate.
“And we are doing sensitisation through radio and television, educating them to stop.”
Explaining further, he said: “The reason why we are not doing anything now is because, we are waiting for the budget because the government cannot spend money without the approval of the national assembly.
“We are going to be receiving visitors all over the world, we are preparing for the May 29, we are trying to clean areas that could embarrass the government, pending when the major one will start.”
He said the department has “identified some critical areas that can embarrass the government” or embarrass the city being a federal capital territory, and those place will be clean up as a matter of urgency.
Usman, the Wuse resident, think the best way to stop people from dumping refuse in the drainage is to cover the drainages with concrete slabs. He called on the relevant authorities to do that as soon as possible.