Visionscape’s Rescue Mission to Clean Up Lagos

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By Tunde Ahmed

A 2012 World Bank report has warned that global solid waste generation is on pace to increase 70 percent by 2025, rising from more than 3.5 million tonnes per day in 2010 to more than 6 million tonnes per day by 2025. The global cost of dealing with all that waste is also rising; from $205 billion a year in 2010 to $375 billion by 2025, with the sharpest cost increases in developing countries.

The economic strain on developing countries is such that, an earlier 2010 United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) presentation indicated that 2050% of recurring budget of municipalities in developing countries is spent on solid waste management, although only 50 percent of urban population is covered. Even more, in lowincome countries, collection alone drains 8090 percent of total waste management budget.

Notwithstanding the huge cost, municipal wastes are often not well managed in developing countries, as cities and municipalities cannot cope with the accelerated pace of waste production. Waste collection rates are considered to be often lower than 70 percent in low-income countries, with more than 50 percent of the collected waste often disposed through uncontrolled landfilling, and about 15 percent processed through unsafe and informal recycling. With particular reference to Africa, the 2010 UNEP presentation indicated that almost 50 percent of waste disposal on the continent is said to be on open dumps.

Meanwhile, the World Bank has given insight that the generation of solid waste is tied to population, income and urbanization. Although developing nations produce lower levels of waste per capita with a higher proportion of organic material in the municipal solid waste stream, as urbanization continues, municipal solid waste grows faster than urban populations because of increasing consumption and shortening product life spans.

To avert a calamity, the 2012 World Bank report recommended a move towards stable or declining populations, denser and better-managed cities consuming fewer resources, and greater equity and use of technology. Indeed, the World Bank says some cities are already setting positive examples for waste reduction. San Francisco, for example, has an ambitious goal of “zero waste” by 2020 with aggressive recycling. About 55 percent of its waste is recycled or reused today. Also, Industries in Kawasaki, Japan, divert 565,000 tonnes of potential waste per year – exceeding the city’s current municipal waste levels.

In the light of these 21st Century examples of modern megacities, could there be any hope for Lagos State, Africa’s most populated city, whose waste generation, as at 2015 was put at 13,000 metric tonnes daily? Lagos presents a perfect example of rapid urbanization without the equivalent speedy response to the corresponding waste management problems that will unquestionably arise as a result. The state faces major environmental challenges associated with waste generation and inadequate waste collection, transport, treatment and disposal.

By 2015, it was obvious that current systems in Lagos could not cope with the volumes of waste generated by an increasing urban population, and this impacts on the environment and public health. Successive agencies established the government to tackle the issues have never been able to deal with them effectively. Other issues like lack of adequate funding; poor data management, inadequate regulatory framework; low investment in infrastructure and equipment; inadequate human capacity; poor attitude of the public to reduce, reuse and recycle waste, or even sort and bag waste, as well as preference for indiscriminate dumping of waste. The Private Sector Participation (PSP) programme introduced by the past administration provided a new direction but was not fully delivering on the promise of a cleaner Lagos.

It has been reported that while they might have served the sole purpose of collection, a system relying solely on the PSP operators left a yawning gap in the effort to keep Lagos streets free of garbage, as experience has shown that they lack both the financial and technological capacity to cope with the monumental waste challenge in the municipalities. In addition, the PSP operators have also had to contend with poor coverage, especially for hard-to-service areas; environmentally degrading and social nuisance-causing dumpsites; poorly managed dumpsites infested with unsightly scavenging and criminal activities; and low cost-recovery for operators due to poor billing solutions.

With all this, it was apparent to government that a wholesale reform of the arrangements was required, which was what resulted in the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI). There was a harmonised law passed in 2017 and various components as highway and street sweeping, medical and hazardous waste management and provision of engineered landfills to tackle the various issues. The most visible of the arrangements, however, is the residential waste collection concession arrangement with the UAE player, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions (VSS), which commenced in July 2017.

While the company has, undeniably, recorded a few achievements so far, such as the completion of the refurbishment of the Transfer Loading Station as (TLS) in Lagos Island, Agege and Oshodi, the acquisition of over 100 new compactor trucks, and commenced the construction of Nigeria’s first engineered landfill in Epe, many stakeholders are impatient for a time when the CLI will fully deliver on its promise on a Cleaner Lagos. Lagosians are understandably aggrieved by the service gaps experienced since January 2018 largely due to the protracted court battle between the ‘Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria’ (who feel aggrieved at the Initiative’s plans to ring-fence their operations to the lucrative but demanding commercial waste segment) and the Lagos State Government.

Last week’s Olusosun dumpsite fire couldn’t have come at a worse time for the beleaguered sector, with the recent hot weather triggering a pocket of methane gas resulting in a fire that over a week later has left the entire Ojota area covered in smoke and an indefinite closure of the site. It is entirely indicative of how much Lagos has grown, that a former quarry situated at what was the outskirts of the city is now in a central location surrounded by schools, offices and homes.

Visionscape in the meantime, gaining momentum albeit at barely 30 per cent capacity, has set up feedback mechanisms to engage better with the public and cut back response time to troubled spots across Lagos that are in urgent need. The organisation has had their efforts hampered by alleged sabotage from aggrieved stakeholders and is now making efforts to cooperate with the parties to involve them. The State has appointed its very own Special Adviser, CLI in the person of Engineer Adebola Shabi, formerly of the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, to properly articulate the vision of the administration as it has become all too apparent that for success to be achieved on the CLI, filling the knowledge, attitude and practice gap is a battle that cannot be downplayed. It’s a fight that’s just beginning, but the Lagos State Government and all parties seem to be hoping that it is a good fight that will yield dividends for all.

Ahmed, a waste management consultant, writes from Lagos