24 July 2013

Nigeria: Capital City Turns Garbage City

Everywhere you turn in the Federal Capital Territory, heaps of garbage stare you in the face. From the city centre to the satellite towns, there is no redeeming feature. Stench from decomposing rubbish, foodstuffs, human faeces and other irritable substances welcome you with gusto. From Abaji through Kwali to Kubwa, Jikwoyi, Karu, Zuba, Nyanya and Bwari, it appears no provision has been made for incinerators or waste-disposal facilities.

It remains to be seen how a fast-expanding FCT hopes to contend with environmental pollution that will invariably attend its mega-city status - it is projected to house 10m people by 2020. Today, the unofficial metropolitan area of Abuja city centre (not FCT) accommodates well over 3m. Sources put the population of Abuja's urban area at 2,245,000 by 2012, making it the fourth largest urban area in Nigeria, surpassed only by Lagos, Kano and Ibadan.

FCT residents are appalled that the government does not care enough or does not understand the impact of having a dirty environment. All over the world, environmental sanitation involves costly measures, long-term planning, and strict enforcement of laws, regulations and procedures. But congestion, industrial expansion and the lack of pollution control don't seem to be of importance to the FCT Administration. There is little consideration for health hazards and a variety of avoidable diseases such as typhoid fever, nausea, cholera and other debilitating conditions that could arise from such situations.

The offices of the Abuja Environmental Protection Board offer a paradox of sorts. The corporate headquarters is unkempt and oozes out putrid odour. From the ground floor through the staircase to the last floor, grime and muck grace the wall of an agency whose duty is to supervise and monitor the city's cleanliness.

With unserviceable refuse disposal trucks, Abuja is fast assuming the status of a garbage city. There is hardly a street without the problem of waste disposal. Most residential areas have turned every available empty space to a disposal site with nobody caring about the health hazards and the implications for urban development. In the absence of public lavatories, people urinate and defecate on the streets.

The FCTA should know that, all over the world, environmental stress is an unavoidable price of development. Widespread environmental abuse will invariably hinder development efforts made in terms of roads, bridges, housing, parks, recreational facilities and other infrastructure. At the worst of times, it compounds the plight of people living in poverty. The sheer enormity of the challenge of environmental degradation and pollution is daunting, but there are sensible, practical and cost-effective ways to combat the menace if only we fully understood the danger it portends for our collective existence. If Abuja is left unattended to, the country will be worse for it. The FCTA must find a sustainable solution to this menace. There are larger and more complicated cities around the world which have managed to solve this problem.

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