Living on the Edge of the Tarmac

05 Jun 2013

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Charles Ajunwa writes that some residents who live very close to the airport in Lagos yearn to experience air travel, just as medical reports warn that those who live near airports risk the twin scourge of  cancer and acute blood pressure

His compound has a back-to-back boundary with the airport’s landing strip, but Kehinde Jolaoso, a resident of Shasha in Alimosho Local Government Area of Lagos State has never been on any aircraft.

“We see them fly over our roof like a bird that wants to perch and since the fence is not so high it’s easier for us to see the inside of the airport too, but I have never been inside any aircraft. I desire it, but the opportunity hasn’t come over 28 years since I have been living here. I have enjoyed the experience of watching the aircrafts landing and taking off, but I can’t just get on board an aircraft because my house is near the airport, I must go through the right channel of purchasing ticket and of course have a destination to fly to,” said Jolaoso whose desire to sit inside the aircraft has not disappear with the passing of the year.

But does Jolaoso know about the hazard of living near the airport? He said: “I know about plane crash. It has never happened here and nobody prays for that.”

However, much more than air crash, airport can alter the lives of people who live nearby. Several reports have warned that people living in communities close to the airports could be at greater risk from cancer caused by pollution from jet exhausts.  Besides, excessive exposure to loud noise for many years researchers confirmed could cause changes in blood pressure as well as changes in sleep and digestive patterns which also result in all signs of stress on the human body.

A 2008 report published in European Heart Journal linked the effects of nighttime noise on blood pressure and found that people living near the airports experience both chronic and acute blood-pressure due to aircraft sounds, even during sleep.
More so, studies also significantly associate aircraft noise with lower reading comprehension, even after socio-economic differences have been ably considered.

Though the local residents around Murtala Muhammed International Airports in Lagos seem not to be taking such reports seriously, they perhaps are aware.

One resident, Temitayo Olowe said: “I am disturbed by the noise, but I enjoy seen the aircraft all the same and it inspires me to improve my status because I dream of flying someday.”
Yes, thirty-four years after the establishment of the airport in Lagos, many residents among the communities that perched near it are yet to experience air travel.  To them, the hazard does not measure up to the urge to experience air travel and they have vowed to overcome just that in their lifetime.

The Lagos airport consists of international and domestic terminals, located about one kilometer from each other. Both terminals share the same runways. Presently, remodeling works are ongoing at both international and the General Aviation terminals to give the airport a facelift. Within the airport ground, is also another domestic terminal known as MMA2 which was commissioned on April 7, 2007.

The high concrete fence securing the facilities at the airport passed through Ajao Estate, Idimu and Ejigbo areas of the state. In these areas, residents usually watch airplanes of different sizes and colours fly over their roofs on a daily basis. But how many of these residents have experienced air travel before?

Last Friday, this reporter visited some parts of Ejigbo Local Council Development Area where residents live at proximity to the airport. The trip was interesting and revealing.

Coincidentally, at the time of the visit to the communities, men, women and children were seen abandoning what they were doing to catch a glimpse of a big aircraft that took-off from the airport. In admiration, a two-year-old boy shouted correctly the name of the airline that took off from the airport at that hour. For them, it has become a daily exercise to be counting the number of airplanes taking off and landing at the airport.

Interestingly, many of the residents who watch the airplanes land and take-off have never seen what the  inside of  the airport looks like apart from those stories they read from the books or hear from people who are privileged to visit the airport.

Mr. Anene Okafor, 56, who resides at Dauda Ilo street, Ejigbo, said that he has been living there in the past 15 years noting that he has never seen a tarmac before. The high concrete fence, according to him, prevented him from having a clear view of the airport.
But he acknowledged that his closeness to the airport informed his decision to send his son to an aviation school with the hope that one day he would become a pilot.

Okafor, who sells palm oil at Ojuwoye market in Mushin, Lagos, said he is investing in his son knowingfully well that as a pilot, he would earn fat salary from his employers at the end of the day.

“I have seen different kinds of airplanes fly over my roof on a daily basis in the past 20 years I have lived on this street and that informed my resolve to send my second son to aviation school. I took this tough decision because of many reasons. One, pilots are well-respected all over the world. They earn good money and live in luxurious houses. If my son becomes a pilot, it will lessen my burden of taking care of others who are still in school. My neighbour whose son read medicine is called ‘Papa Doctor’, I also want to be addressed as Papa Pilot.”

“When reminded about air mishap, Okafor who is a staunch Christian said that “God will never allow such to happen. No weapon fashion against my son shall prosper. I pray everyday for him and I believe the God I am worshiping will never allow that to happen. He will continue to protect him. Afterall, I have lived here these 20 years without any airplane crashing over my house.

“And for 20 years this wall here has prevented me from seeing what it is like inside the airport. I have to break the wall somehow and the best way I believe to do it justly would be to get my son involved with the aviation industry.  At least, what I cannot experience my son is experiencing it. I believe one day in my lifetime I will have the opportunity of boarding an aircraft piloted by my son. That is the joy of every father,” he said.

Another resident, Mrs. Funmi Akande, 49, a professional, said her life dream is to be on board an aircraft. She said she is closer to realising that dream.

“I had longed to enter an aircraft. It was my attraction to airplanes that made us moved here in 2001. I like to see airplanes because as a child I remember we used to sing and clapped our hands when we see airplane flying.

Akande, who is a single mother, said: “Living close to the airport and not able to gain access into the airport could be frustrating. So I want to see the inside myself. I am close to realising that dream, it would be soon.”

Ekene Okeje, who hails from Oru-East Local Government Area of Imo State, and resident at Jubril Olabisi Street, Ejigbo, said that he has formed the habit of watching the airplanes land and take off from the airport.

“On a daily basis, I sit down here to watch all the airplanes that land and take off from the Murtala Mohammed International Airport. Though the security fence separates us from the airport, my one storey building enables me see all the happenings inside the airport. I comfortably sit down in my house and watch airplanes landing and take off like watching news hour on the television.

“Since I moved into this community, I have cultivated the habit of watching the airplanes land and take off from the airport. It has become like a game to me. Sometimes I watch with friends admiring the people on board and of course we are inspired by it too. Since I am not able to board the plane now, I feel good each time I see the aircraft,” he enthused

And for the hazards, Okeje said: “You see, living close to the airport has its own problems. One, the noise from the aircraft is capable of disturbing your sleep. It also makes you feel uncomfortable especially when you are making phone calls, the vibration from the aircraft makes it difficult for you to hear clearly. We have read also news where aircraft crash in highly populated areas destroying lives and property, but thank God we haven’t experienced that here.”

An environmentalist, Akinbode Oluwafemi, said communities near the airport face tremendous pressure and environmental hazards. “The impact may not be immediate, but the effect when it comes will be catastrophic,” he said.

To illustrate the depth of human dangers surrounding communities living near the airports, Akinbode argued that local resident should be more bothered about the safety of their lives more than the inspiration the environment offers. He noted that people who perched near the airport are exposed to airport noise levels considered unhealthy and unacceptable.

He said pollutants common around airports include diesel exhaust, carbon monoxide and leaked chemicals that are linked to cancer, asthma, liver damage, lung disease, lymphoma, myeloid leukemia, and even depression.

But now, who will turn the table around for the airport neighbours who are inspired to experience air travel rather than considering the threat their living near the airport posed to their safety.  Akinbode said: “It may take a local researcher to convince them.”
Pix Caption:
The roof of houses near the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Lagos

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