Saturday, 27 June 2009

The agony in flooded neighborhoods

As the rainy season arrives once again, anxiety is mounting daily over the extent of flooding that is likely to be experienced in Port Harcourt, Lagos and other Nigerian cities. As this prevails one question reigns: How can poor households escape the monstrous flood that now more than ever before over-run their homes on regular basis? Beyond traditional concerns of leaking roofs in poor neighborhoods, one major concern that has eclipsed the former is the flooding of neighborhoods. Worst affected being densely populated low income urban neighborhoods.
In Benin, Owerri, Calabar and other parts of urban Nigeria flooding has become a modern day menace. Flood in particular, especially in Nigerian coastal cities is an extant major challenge. Though climate change related, it is also related to changes in built-up areas. The building of infrastructure, residential and office accommodations, as well as paved surfaces now obstruct natural drainage channels, and eclipsing the provision already made for, and use of parks and other open spaces as places to safely accommodate flood water from unusually serious storms. The result today is that rainfalls no longer easily infiltrate the soil; hence rapidly generating huge run-offs. Also high intensity or prolonged rainfalls now rapidly overwhelms local areas because of poorly maintained and insufficient drainage systems as those in existence are full of silt and clogged with garbage.
In Port Harcourt city and its environs, unpredictable high intensity rainfalls now results in mass flooding of neighborhoods. In such areas, one recurring problem is the overflow and clogging of latrines, as well as the erosion of pit and septic tank structures. The major problems arising from these are surface water contamination and loss of accessibility to the latrine during flood. Often, the most affected are the urban poor who live in densely populated neighborhoods where households share on-site latrines located outside their living rooms. For women in such areas, this is an issue as loss of access also translates to loss of privacy for defecation. The result is that most residents are now compelled to “wrap and throw” their excreta into runoffs; and further worsening the health risks and retarding local gains in sanitation coverage.
From Lagos, Tessy Igomu writing for the SUN reports that each day, the picture is nauseating. Open sewage tanks and pipes oozing acrid odor; blocked drainages and gutters overflowing with garbage as well as disused household items and pure water sachets have become sights that Lagos State residents daily behold during rainy season. To many Lagos residents, a cloudy sky only signals one thing: Prepare to empty your waste bin into any available drainage. ‘Agbara a gbe lo,’ meaning, the flood will carry it away, is an easy chant on the people’s lips in defense of such dirty habit.
According to a man called Rasaki, who earns a living vulcanizing vehicles, the dirt from the Lagos canal, as well as sandbags stacked along its perimeters have, in recent weeks, found their way back to the tertiary drainage. “We are afraid of what might happen. The high mould of sand usually rolls back into the dredged channels with so much noise that makes the water overflow the canal with force. Every day, the man that operates the dredger would come and switch it on. After that, he would just disappear for the day,” he complained. Voicing her fears, Nkechi Ogom, a salon operator at Lawanson area of the metropolis complained that they are yet to enjoy reprieve from flood since the state government started dredging the Idi-Araba canal in the area. “This canal runs from here to Mushin and empties its water into the lagoon. We live in fear because no serious work has been done on it. They just demolished houses close to it, brought out the sand and left it that way. I must tell you that we are afraid here”, she lamented. The lamentation is widespread in all the areas where major drainages snake through in the state. Residents of such areas actually live with bated breath when the sky darkens.However, for madam Glory in Mushin; concerns over latrine and latrine wastes are topmost. She recalls “Last year, tens of floating polythene bags sailed into our rooms with the invading flood, when we tried to remove them, their contents, mostly “shit” poured all over the place. Even after the rain, the problem persisted as we all had diarrhea”.

In Amadi Ama and Diobu areas of Port Harcourt, incidents of floating “shits” during flood is common. Residents are worried that fellow residents could afford to punish others by throwing their wastes into flood. According to Mr. Amakiri, “If only I had the funds, I would have parked out of the place to a better place; rainfall season is a bad time for us because of the floods”. He continued…” The water that comes, always come with sand and other dirt including wastes from toilets, this makes the whole place filthy and unsafe”.

For Angela, who lives around Slaughter area in Port Harcourt, “The toilets are clogged and washed over during flood. You won’t even find a place to excrete till after one week or two after the flood”. Wading through flooded compounds in search of good toilet to use during flooding gives Moses some concern, according to him; “My pregnant wife suffered so much in April because of no latrines as our toilets were submerged and unusable, it was hell”

Though residents agree that the state governments in Lagos and Port Harcourt are doing well to check the flood problem, they however gives thumps up to LatrineTec, a private company that works on ecological latrine emptying, upgrading and short listing of adaptable latrines; and training services etc. The company partners with other groups to improve public health, personal dignity and the quality of the living environment. Its specific areas of operation include the emptying of septic tanks.

LatrineTec is currently promoting the “Flood Resilient Household Latrine”; an innovative design with improved adaptive features to the traditional pit and the pour-flush system. Its designers in delivering it were not unmindful of the fact that certain latrine components are vulnerable to flood damage and that some are most likely to lead the users to abandon the latrine hence have adopted an improved version of the Bangladesh raised latrines.

Therefore the flood resilient latrine as being promoted by the company retains improved design and more careful installation that makes it adaptable. It also has unique internal and external components and unlike other sanitation options, it retains enormous flexibility with great ease of adaptability based on the fact that it could be built in-door or outdoor; operated on either single or twin pits that are well sealed; and appropriate for both rural and urban settings as well as being accessible to even disable persons and respects privacy.

When indoors, the floor does not have to be broken open periodically for emptying the pit hence encouraging families to use a higher standard of fittings and materials, thus increasing the prestige attached to it. If inside the house, people can visit the toilet in complete privacy without wading through flooded compounds to access it.

Based in Port Harcourt, LatrineTec according to the Marketing Manager Mr. Emma Ekong, the company is currently partnering with some NGOs to engage landlords to upgrade their house latrines and make them resilient to floods. He also unveils the company’s plan to partner with the Port Harcourt City and Obio-Akpor Councils in this regard.
Till this is achieved, the agony probably lingers.

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