Apapa: Overflowing with Garbage

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Adedayo Adejobi writes that solid waste litters most streets in Apapa with its attendant health implications

The cities of third world countries are growing at very rapid rates compared to those in the developed nations. For instance, a United Nations -Habitat report observed that Africa is the fastest urbanising continent having cities like Cairo, Lagos, Nairobi, Kinshasa, among others growing at fast rates that would make them triple their current sizes by the year 2050 (UN-Habitat, 2010). Such high rate of growth of cities has implications for the provision of urban infrastructural services to prevent the proliferation of urban slum. The increasing growth of cities, therefore, has implications for municipal waste management among other social services required in the urban communities.

Apapa, which houses the country’s busiest ports, is daily becoming a monument to our culture of waste, the final resting place of every forgotten carrier bag, every discarded bottle and every piece of packaging blown away in the wind. Opinions about the exact size of this great, garbage mix vary, but some claim it has doubled over the past few years.

Carrying out an on-the-spot assessment of the inadequacies in urban social services like inefficient management of solid wastes, Apapa which used to be home to the supper-rich, today is littered with mountains of open rubbish and illegal waste dumps which are covered with flies. Thus, serving as breeding grounds for rodents and mosquitoes which are carriers of diseases, causing air and land pollution, which is inimical to public health.

In a bid to examine the link between environmental pollution arising from waste dumps and public health, THISDAY visited most parts of Apapa.

The implications of people who work in companies, situated factories in filthy environments and live in close proximity to these waste dumps, pose huge social, health, and psychological consequences to the average Nigerian.

A common site of different shades, shapes and sizes of refuse dumpsites litter Creek Road, one of the busiest roads in Apapa that plays host to big firms. For passers-by, the common nauseating sight of heaps of rubbish can be overwhelmingly off-putting. And due to poor and ineffective management, the roads are majorly occupied, used, abused, and blocked with petrol tankers that constitute an overwhelming source of health hazards to people living and working in the vicinity of such dumps.

Scholars in environmental studies, over the years, explain the relationship between the growth in income per capita and various indicators of environmental degradation, popularly referred to as Environmental Kuznets Curve (EKC). The main argument of EKC is that the level of environmental
degradation (as a result of pollution from industrial and domestic activities) first rises, gets to a peak and later declines as income per head increases in the economy.
This can be linked to the rural-urban migration and urbanisation phenomena as well as externality effect of solid waste generation in production and consumption activities as the economy has developed industrially over the years.

Going down the economic theory lane, Bimbo Adesoyoju, Managing Director, Datapro Consulting, has posited a strong link between economic growth and the growth of cities. Thus, there is a positive relationship between urbanisation and income per capita. For instance in 2009, a report put the proportion of African population living in cities at 40 per cent (395 million), but by 2050, urban population projection would have increased to 60 per cent rising to 1.23 billion persons (UN-Habitat, 2010). The report is of the view that rapid growth of cities is neither good nor bad in itself unless such rapid growth results in urban congestion, slum and increase in environmental pollution from increased solid domestic and industrial waste generation that is not adequately managed.

Since most developing nations like Nigeria in the wake of urbanisation and industrialisation are still grappling with the problem of adequate management of solid waste being generated, the health and economic implications of waste dumps in a city like Lagos with a catapulting population can be best imagined.

Daily is the increase in risk of adverse health effects (low birth weight, birth defects, and certain types of cancers) which would have been associated with residences near certain dump sites. An increased prevalence of self-reported health symptoms such as fatigue, sleepiness, and headaches among residents near these waste sites are direct effects of toxicologic action of chemicals present in waste sites, an effect of stress and fears related to the waste site.
Apapa, a land-starved area, witnesses tons of refuse every day in various residential and work locations which have become dump yards. Meanwhile, people, or half of Apapa’s population, live in daily refuse, slums without basic sanitation and safe drinking water.

Major roads in Apapa underscore the need to put government’s resources to optimal use if the Lagos State government is going to succeed in its goal of building everyone a clean Lagos.
Ken Alonge, an environmentalist at Monarch Environmental Services, goes even further to help make more people aware of the threatened community and damage waste is doing to our health, roads, oceans.

Speaking on the health implications, a health worker disclosed with the given scenario and imminent danger, “it has become common-place for many children accompanying their parents into the dump to pick through the dirty road side wastes, contaminated air and scavenge for recyclables to sell. They frequently get boils, sores and respiratory ailments.”

Musa Nureni, a sponge recycler on the fringes of the Creek Road waste dump, takes injections several times a year. The 32-year-old separates sponge sheets from the mixed waste he picks from the waste sites and often pricks himself with a needle or glass shard.
“It keeps happening,” said Nureni, holding up the bandaged index finger of his right hand while cutting sponge, mostly from cushions inside discarded furniture, into tiny cubes that get sold to local toymakers as stuffing material.
When asked to comment on the issue, the office of the Apapa Local Government Chairman declined to comment.

Most Nigerian households don’t separate garbage for recycling. What reaches the road dumps and landfills is a mix of kitchen refuse, plastic, glass, paper, metal and construction debris, requiring hundreds of waste pickers to trawl through it. Separated garbage would result in less mass and require less space.
Redeveloping dump yards wouldn’t just free up space to build homes, it would mean more roads, parks or hospitals in a city with already-burdened infrastructure.
The real challenge in redeveloping dump yards, according to Jaiye Ayeni, is the “huge upfront capital” needed to clean the land, make it safe for habitation and then build sewage, water and electricity lines. The government could start by offering it to developers at low rates. Basically, there should be enough incentive, enough margin of profit for a developer to really go after this,” he said.

For anyone who drives through Apapa, you can’t help but notice the vast expanse of debris which litter everywhere. Put together, it no doubt creates massive sites full of hazardous materials harmful to human life. For staff of companies situated in and around the Creek Road, Burma Road and sea port axis, these questions unscripted, naturally, fill their mouth- “How could we have fouled such a huge area? How could this go on for a week?”
THISDAY findings revealed that the bone-idle, lazy petrol tanker and truck drivers, male guards, residents, factories, food vendors, and companies without proper waste disposal channels, litter the roads with garbage.

A cursory look at municipal solid waste generation, disposal and the consequent environmental impacts was mainly generated by population growth and unplanned urban expansion which has exceeded the expected limit in recent time with resultant ugly system of solid wastes disposal. Municipal solid wastes which contain both biodegradable and non-biodegradable wastes are disposed at the shoulders of major highways in temporary dumpsites and are not often evacuated by the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA), on a weekly basis. There is no organised house-to-house or street-to-street collection of the solid wastes.

THISDAY investigations showed that roadside disposal of municipal solid wastes has serious impacts on the environment. Some of these impacts include physical nuisance of the solid wastes to the environment; the solid waste dumps also serve as hideouts for rodents and snakes which are dangerous. The solid wastes are blown around by wind making the environment filthy, most of the wastes are also washed by overland flow during heavy downpour to block drainage channels and subsequently lead to flooding of the environment. Most of the non- biodegradable solid wastes contain toxic chemicals which have serious implications on environmental sustainability and human health.

Based on these findings, policy measures that would enhance the health status and improve living conditions of residents should be put in place. At least, the likes of Nureni will breathe clean air and won’t have to pick out needles from the garbage

Government should come up with proper orientation and environmental laws should be put in place for the general public and also to provide necessary facilities and arrange for better methods of collection of solid wastes.