On the occasion of the World Soil Day 2016 which underscored the importance of a healthy soil to the environment, Chineme Okafor writes on the dilemmas of two urban poor women in Abuja’s Kuchigoro and Karmo, where waste disposal practices maybe indirectly contributing to the destruction in their areas

“Sometime the pump runs and sometimes, it does not, so we fetch from the well. The well is dirty, we see used polythene bags, used hair attachments, leaves, all kinds of things, sometimes shoes inside the well.

“Every time I finish having a bath, my skin starts to itch. Sometimes I scratch my skin so much that it starts to bleed,” said Tasallah Dikko, a mother and melon (egusi) trader in Abuja’s Karmo.

Speaking in Hausa Language which was promptly interpreted, Dikko explains her daily struggle to get and use a basic amenity like water; what Dikko does not say but is obvious is that lack of access to safe water forces urban poor people like her to dig wells as alternative source of water and ground water may not always be safe especially in the face of the realities of environmental pollution and bad waste management that clearly marks urban poor communities like Karmo

She said: “We have never seen a truck collecting waste, they use wheelbarrow and we pay them. I pay N300, sometimes even N400 for them to collect the waste.”

According to her: “I always have waste to collect because of my egusi (melon) business, they will now take it to the big dumpsite but now the dumpsite is full and they always complain that the dumpsite is so full and there is no space for them to dump the waste.
“Sometimes during the rainy season we drop our waste into the gutters and sometimes when we do that, the water and waste will overflow and enter into people’s houses that are on the lower land, it even flows into their rooms.”

She clearly does not see the connection between the bad waste disposal practices she describes and the debris that she commonly finds in her well water and is even more never likely going to connect the impact the “big dumpsite” could possibly have on the structure and chemical composition of the soil which is very central to food production in her community

THISDAY, working with a non-governmental organisation – the Media, Information and Narrative Development (MIND), frequently embed in far-flung communities of Abuja to highlight the challenges of urban poor residents.

It was in the spirit of an ongoing 55-day campaign by MIND to ‘step down poverty and step up human rights’ in Abuja’s poor communities that the reporter picked up Dikko’s story alongside that of Helen Emmanuel, a young mother and food stuff seller in Kuchigoro which is another poor urban community of Abuja to highlight how poor waste disposal practices affect soil conditions and inversely community health and environment.

While their stories tallied with the occasion of the World’s Soil Day 2016, in which the United Nations has called for a unified action to protect the soils of communities and improve environmental health, the reporter also recognised that their poor waste disposal habits could have contributed to the polluted water the communities rely on for their daily household tasks.

Though apart from each other in terms of their residences, Dikko and Emmanuel however share a common challenge, and had in speaking with the documentary team, perhaps bared what could become a catastrophe to Abuja’s environment in years to come if left unattended to.

“Nobody ever comes here to collect dustbins. There was a time when the environmental people gave us sacks to put our waste in, and said they would come and collect them, but they failed to come and collect them,” Emmanuel stated.

She however added: “If rain falls here, you cannot pass or do anything, even inside my room, water flows in there. Every dustbin gathers in front of our house including faeces. If the rain falls, everything becomes smelly, you cannot stay here.”
Clearly, their stories equally buttressed that communities in developing countries with open dumpsites are living on polluted environments with its attendant danger often ignored by cities’ authorities.

Indeed, as highlighted by Dikko’s reported skin itches, the contamination of soil by heavy metal can really cause adverse effects on human health, animals and even soil productivity in terms of agricultural practices. Also, reports of declining outputs in farms and gardens are replete and significantly linked to unhealthy waste disposals.

Unless practical and timely steps are taken, the hazards of poor waste disposal practices in Kuchigoro and Karmo may eventually become a common threat to urban poor residents who mostly rely on unconventional water supplies like ground water to survive; and are largely also reliant on the state of the soil to produce crops for food and sale.

In commemorating the 2016 edition of World Soil Day, the United Nation stated that its campaign for a healthy soil aims to connect people and communities with the potential their waste management choices have on it, as well as raise awareness on the critical importance of healthy soils on their lives.

Abuja in this regard should from the stories shared by Dikko and Emmanuel, make clear-cut choices of exploring opportunities that would embrace sustainable environmental practices especially in its satellite towns to preserve the soils, guarantee clean ground water and contribute to a healthy environment and society.