© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Kwara communities face threat of epidemics from filthy environment
Residents of Dada and other communities in Ilorin, Kwara State engage in indiscriminate dumping of refuse and open defecation due to the failure of the state government to provide dumpsters in public places and therefore live in perpetual fear of an epidemic outbreak, Abiodun JAMIU reports.
SOFT sunlight illuminates the dark corridor outside Iya Sikiru’s shop. With a plate and spoon in hand, she ladles three spoonfuls of rice into the plate.
Suddenly, she scowls, battling with flies so that they would not to perch on the plate of rice holds. Balancing the weather beaten plate on the wooden chair beside her, Iya Sikiru, as she is popularly known by motorists, began to lurch her hands side by side to drive the flies away.
“They are irritating (referring to the flies). There is no way you can chase them away,” she soliloquises.
Now facing the direction of this reporter, she adds, “they would still come back. This is what we deal with on a daily basis.”
“If not for God that is looking on us …” she coughed, unable to complete the statement.
Iya Sikiru, a food vendor, recounted the number of years she has spent at the popular Garaji Ondoko, a motor park at Dada Community in Ilorin, Kwara State.
But, aside the flies, she agonises even more about the indiscriminate dumping of refuse by residents of the area but like every other person, she hopes heaps of refuse that dot the community would be cleared soon to avert an impending epidemic.
“Garaji Ondoko is my second home. I have been in this garage for some years, selling ewa (beans). People come from different places to dump their refuses here including faeces,” she bemoans the unhygienic waste disposal habit of people of the community.
Pointing to a nearby soccer field, she said, “If not for the boys that play football there, it would have covered the whole field as well.”
Dada Community in the throes of garbage and filth
The ugly story of Dada community’s rise to infamy begins with the common sight of garbage.
Just off the main road that leads to Kwara State Specialist Hospital,the community is left at its own ruins. It is best described as a community synonymous with heaps of refuse dumps.
Known for its rich pottery and artistic exploits, Dada community is fast losing these beauties to heaps of refuse and it has not attracted government attention to evacuate the filth.
Open defecation and poor sewage system remain part of environmental and health concerns in the community.
Sustainable development goal 6 (SDG6) of the United Nations, seeks to ensure “availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all” by 2030. The targets – to be achieved by 2030 – include: achieving universal and equitable access to safe and affordable drinking water; access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all and end open defecation; improve water quality by reducing pollution, eliminate dumping and minimise the release of hazardous chemical.
There have been several attempts by international organisations to end open defecation – and largely poor sanitation – in Nigeria by 2030 but with little progress so far.
According to WaterAid Nigeria, an international non-governmental organisation focused on water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), one in every three people, totalling 59 million people, do not have access to clean water while seven in 10 people, a staggering 70 percent, making 123 million people of the world’s population, do not have access to decent toilet. lso, 59,500 children under the age of five die a year due to poor water and sanitation.
Though the Kwara State Environmental Protection Agency (KWEPA) is charged with waste management in the state, the services of the agency had never been extended to the community. This is what emboldens residents to use an open field to dispose of their domestic wastes and also defecate.
“Though people do complain of the vile odour coming from the heap, we have no choice. We hope a day would come that it would be cleared,” says a resident named Ade.
Coming into the community, a visitor struggles with flies taking off from faeces that litter almost everywhere, and smells of rotten food displayed by the roadside.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 2014, open defecation – and largely poor sanitation – is a leading agent of diarrhoea death.
WHO fact sheet reveals that an average of 2,000 children under the age of five die every day from diarrhoea. The residents of this community remained unruffled as they ignorantly contribute to this figure with their actions.
No alternative to Dada’s magnificent dump site
Residents of the Dada community say they are forced to turn their domestic waste to what has now become a mountain of refuse because there is no alternative.
“Often, we throw the waste into gutter when it rains,” says Abdulhakeem Amolegbe, a commercial motorcyclist. “But once there is no rain, all of us take our refuse to the dumpsite near the motor garage.”
Now they bear the consequences of their action, because, as Amolegbe complains, the fresh air in the area is polluted by the presence of the huge refuse dumpsite.
“It is frustrating,” he said, “We dare not come out in the afternoon to receive fresh air, the odour from the heap is usually frustrating.”
Again, there are no public toilets in the community, and this, residents argue contribute to why people resort to open defecation.
Sidikat, a mother of two who lives in a “face-me-I-face-you” apartment near the illegal dump site, does not allow her kids to play outside when the sun goes down owing to the pervasive odour from the heap.
She fears the thick odour is infectious and unsafe for them. According to her, the odour permeates even closed windows.
“If not for the fact that it just rained, you wouldn’t have met us outside” Sidikat told this reporter.
“I don’t allow them (the kids) to play outside during the day. If they don’t go to ‘ile kewu’ (an Islamic school) after returning from school, they would rather stay inside. Who knows? They might go there to play. The odour is just too much for us to bear”
No one controls the indiscriminate dumping of refuse at the dumpsite, Sidikat laments. “No one stops them from dumping there” she gestures towards the heap of refuse fronting her house.
“If we want to, they would say the land belongs to the government. Even people from other communities come with cars to dump their wastes here” She added.
This is fuelled by the claim that there is no other place to dump their waste. “We dump the refuse from my shop here. It is a routine,” says Toheeb Raji (not real name), an apprentice, as he made his way to dump a sack he was holding.
Abdul Wasiu, a resident, recalls that even people come with cars to dump refuse in the area particularly when it is noon. He berated the government for not providing the necessary facilities that would serve the community.
“This heap attracts dumpers from neighbouring communities. In fact, some people come with cars and ‘Okada’ to dump refuse here in the night,” he said.
Government is blamed by the residents for not providing basic infrastructure for waste collection including incinerators.
For ailing Issa Abdulraheem, a resident, the odour from the heap contributed gravely to his illness. Wearing a gloomy face, he unbuttoned his shirt to show a healing wound on his pelvis.
“It is affecting us, wallahi. If I had known where they would help us to clear it, I would have gone there to show them the wounds I’m battling with until it is cleared,” he said.
Isa confirms what Sidikat said about the stench from the refuse dump during the afternoon. “Once it is noon, the odour is usually thick and frustrating; in fact, the odour is the major cause of diseases in this community,” Issa said as he managed to yawn.
Hopeless but not crippled, the least residents of the community could do is to set fire on the refuse dump once the raining season is over.
Mama Onikoko an elderly woman living close to the dumpsite said the heap would be burnt once the raining season ends. Her words: “You can see how I sent the boys away. No one will chase them, and that’s how it expanded.
“But once the rain is over, it would be set it on fire”
Not Dada alone
Checks by this reporter, however, revealed that Dada is not the only community in Ilorin where illegal dumpsites are common sights.
Along Balogun Fulani Road in Ilorin, refuse is laid at interval along the street, while the canal along Challenge Road overflows with dirt and fills the air with an offensive odour. Ipata Market, in front of Balogun Gambari Micro Finance Bank is also littered with refuse dumps.
Residents revealed there were waste bins stationed at designated areas across the city before. They said the bins were often times filled and spilling over before being evacuated by men of the state environmental protection agency.
But as at the time of filing this report, no wastes bins could be found at designated points across the city anymore.
Another heavy dump site shares a barricade with Bukola Saraki Junior Secondary school, Amule Iya Balogun, Okelele Road, Ilorin East Local Government.
With students vulnerable to diseases such as diarrhoea, intestinal worms’ infection, typhoid, cholera, hepatitis and polio, a canal which runs through Oke Amule to Shamsudeen with its putrid odour is left unpacked, posing threat to the academic community.
Ismail Bukola, a bricklayer and resident of Shamsudeen along Sobi Road, expressed disappointment at the ineptitude of the state waste management agency over the littering garbage in the city. He contends that the unreliability of the sanitation exercise which holds every last Saturdays of the month worsened the situation.
“People engage in indiscriminate dumping because there is no other option. Before, they dumped their refuse in waste bins provided by the state government,” he said.
“But now that there is no waste bin at the designated points, those that can burn it do so and those that couldn’t, dump in the open, uncompleted buildings and canals.”
On the monthly sanitation exercise, Ismail said that people no longer engage in the cleaning of their environment due to weak enforcement by the authorities.
According to Solihu Ridwan, a student and resident of Okelele, erecting an illegal dumpsite owing to lack of waste bins is a common practice among residents of the community.
He, therefore, implored relevant authorities to immediately provide waste disposal options across the state in order to prevent an epidemic.
Reacting, to the situation, the Head of Department, Waste Management of the Kwara State Environmental Protection Agency (KWEPA), Adebayo Akinwale, attributed the challenge to inadequate manpower.
He faulted illegal waste collectors in the state for the growing of illegal dumpsites, revealing that a task force has already been constituted to clamp down on these individuals.
“We all know evacuation of waste is also one of the responsibilities of the government. Some of these people have reported to us and we have also directed the complaint to the Ministry of Environment and Forestry for onward evacuation,” Akinwale said.
“The lapses are as a result of inadequate technical staff. Provided we have enough, we would be able to reach out to the nooks and crannies of not only Ilorin metropolis but also the whole state.”
He continued: “Most of these illegal dumpsites are caused by illegal waste collectors in the state. At the moment, we are committed to curbing the menace and clamping down on the illegal collectors
Speaking on the immediate evacuation of the dumpsite in Dada, Akinwale assured that it would be looked into.
“We now have a working governor who is committed to ensuring a healthy atmosphere in the state. We would definitely forward it to the ministry for inspection and evacuation. When we remove waste like this, we would urge the residents to be vigilant and erect signage to warn defaulters”
Akinwale added that the poor usage of the waste bins informed the agency decision to recall the damaged bins and revealed that the waste bins would not be distributed to the designated points.
“We discovered that the waste bins placed at strategic locations across the city are misused by the public. While some would go as high as dumping dead animals or ashes in it, others would dump refuses on the ground,” he said.
“This damaged most of the containers and thus necessitated the recall.”
According to him, a waste collection contractor has been charged with collecting wastes across the metropolis.
What experts say could happen
Experts have warned that there could be an outbreak of epidemic if indiscriminate dumping of refuses and open defecation are not checked and controlled.
Auwal Gambo, a microbiologist, attributed poor sanitation to inadequate sanitary facilities and awareness among communities in the rural communities.
He said that poor sanitation has been a major cause of outbreaks in the country and therefore cautioned relevant authorities to make amends in order to avert preventable epidemics.
“Open defecation and indiscriminate dumping of garbage is a two-sided phenomenon,” Gambo explained.
When people defecate in an open environment there are implications, the microbiologists stated.
Explaining further, Gambo said the faeces which contain pathogenic microorganisms may be flushed away by rain into the stream/rivers and can be used as a source of water for drinking and cooking and other house chores.
It might be carried by flies and insects and when these land on food and water, they serve as a vehicle of transmission of diseases. Consuming food and water contaminated with faecal material is the major cause of most outbreaks in Nigeria, among which cholera is.
Also, Ummah Muhammad, a medical microbiologist, said indiscriminate dumping facilitates outbreaks which would have adverse effects on the health and socio-economic life of the country.
She said that lack of effective waste disposal and evaluation framework by the government aided the spread of the menace.
“People indulge in open defecation and illegal dumping owing to lack of proper refuse disposal/evacuation strategy by the government,” Mohammed pointed out.
Where toilet facilities are available, they suffer lack of repair and are overburdened due to overpopulation, she added.
She, therefore, urged the government to embark on a pragmatic campaign towards ending the scourge of open defecation in the country.