Barely one week from today, the world will be commemorating World Environment Day on June 5, with the theme “Air Pollution. I am looking forward to the different activities that have been lined up for the week and day because I believe that pollution is a serious problem that needs to be tackled decisively and immediately. We do our health, that of our children and children’s children a great injustice when we ignore the environment in which we live in.
My last column ended with a story I told about the time we at FADE Africa visited motor parks in Lagos to enlighten them about pollution and waste. I reflected on the poor hygienic conditions we saw at the different motor parks, from plastics everywhere to food waste scattered all over the floor and defecation openly taking place in corners across the parks. This is sadly the case in many of the motor parks across the country, with very few meeting proper waste and sanitary standards.
We may be quick to dismiss this lifestyle as it does not immediately affect us but think deeply about the implications. Poor waste management affects us all eventually. The air we breathe, the food that we eat from the land, the fish we eat from the rivers and seas and the water some of us drink have all been badly contaminated because the waste we dump indiscriminately in gutters or on the streets often find their way to the land and seas that we depend on for sustenance.
The waste that end up in water bodies negatively change the chemical composition of the water. Technically, this is called pollution, and it affects all ecosystems existing in the water. It can also cause harm to animals that drink from such polluted water. Humans eat these affected animals of the sea and land, exposing us to the harmful toxins they have ingested.
Hazardous chemicals that get into the soil (contaminants) can harm plants when they take up the contamination through their roots. If humans eat plants and animals that have been in contact with polluted soils, there can be negative impact on their health. Bad waste management practices can result in land and air pollution and can cause respiratory problems and other adverse health effects as contaminants are absorbed from the lungs into other parts of the body.
Waste, sometimes referred to as trash, garbage, or refuse, is any material, substance or by-product eliminated or discarded as no longer useful or required after the completion of a process, while waste management means the best practice for the handling, collection, transportation for re-use or recycling of solid waste. Waste can either be in a liquid or solid state and can be hazardous and recyclable too. There are different sources of waste; it could be municipal, that is, from households, schools, office, etc, and medical, agricultural, industrial or from automobile.
In Nigeria, it is a common sight to see waste in refuse dumps everywhere for a good number of months, resulting to public health implications. It is hard to see waste collation sites without odour nuisance as a result of degradation, decay or fermentation.
With a projected headcount of about 250 million people in less than 10 years, it is fair to argue that our environment will feel the impact severely, if we don’t tame this wildfire before it spreads too far. We can already see the effects of environmental degradation caused by pollution and, with time, the situation will worsen, unless we act fast.
When I think about environmental pollution, I think about a problem that has been overlooked for too long and is crying for attention. Environmental pollution does not just affect the aesthetics and odour of our society, it also affects our farmlands, marine life, elements that are necessary for survival on earth, such as land, water and air.
Lagos State is a city dear to my heart. I have lived in this city for as long as I can remember and it saddens me to see the current state of our environment. Plastic has maneuvered its way into our city and taken over our streets, our rivers and lakes, our lives. Our gutters are stagnant and home to various foreign elements. The foul smell given off by gutters is so strong that one has no choice but to sacrifice breathing for a few seconds so as not to be impaled by the strong odour.
Why have we made such close allies with filth? It is a usual sight in Lagos to see heaps of refuse dumped right beside a waste bin. We clearly have a waste problem that needs to be tackled urgently. Improper management of our waste has tainted the aesthetic appeal of our beloved city and is a breeding ground for mosquitoes and other elements that are not beneficial to our health. We need to understand that uncollected waste placed on the ground will result in unsanitary conditions, especially during the rainy season. Hence the constant flooding from blocked gutters and canals. Polluted water flowing from waste dumps and disposal sites can cause serious pollution for surface water and the surrounding environment, all of which becomes a breeding site for flies, mosquitoes and rats that are very effective vectors that spread disease.
Also, there is the case of unattended waste containing dangerous items such as broken glass, razor blades, needles and other healthcare wastes that pose risks of injury or poisoning, particularly to children and people who are engaged in waste sorting and handling.
There is also the issue of street trading and hawking. These activities contribute to the heaps of waste that litter the city and the whole nation. Not to talk about the quantity of fumes being inhaled by these street traders or the fact that it is used as a way to get rid of expired or soon to be expired goods by certain shop owners. I have always campaigned against this common practice to the point that I raised the notion to fine the buyers not the sellers as a way to curb hawking and roadside street trading. Lives are at risk in these communities. Children are being born in these communities and their quality of life will be affected if something is not done quickly.
Over the next few weeks, I will be writing more about the different types of pollution and its effects, with the help of some friends in the environment, doctors, farmers and writers. We seriously need to have a discussion with ourselves about our environment. We need to not only have this discussion but to make conscious efforts to change our lifestyle and do away with things that are affecting our environment negatively.