Joachim Ibeziako Ezeji
The Niger Delta, the world’s third largest wetland, is the main source of foreign exchange earnings for Nigeria. Since 1975, more than 90 per cent of Nigeria’s export earnings have, on average, been generated from the region’s oil resources. However, the Niger Delta as represented by its largest city Port Harcourt remains the least developed area of the country in physical, socio-economic terms.
In this part of the country, 20% of children under the ages of five die every year from effects of drinking unsafe water. The general situation is an irony of water, water, water everywhere but none good enough to drink.
The unabated growth of filth in the country’s cities as well as the corresponding abysmal management of wastes (both industrial and domestic) is a sordid reflection of the country’s government and people to safeguard their health and general well being.
In Nigeria, available statistics from the Federal Ministry of Environment show that organic waste tops the list of municipal solid wastes with Lagos generating 33.5 per cent, Kaduna (63.05 per cent), Abuja (46.3 per cent), Jos (56.7 per cent), Port Harcourt (60 per cent), Yola (45 per cent), Benin (54.18 per cent) and Onitsha (61.6 per cent) in 2001 of total wastes generated.
Even before that survey, the Nigerian Environmental Study/Action Team (NEST) had in 1991, estimated that the annual per capita solid waste generation in Nigeria was 20 kilogram (kg), which translates to an estimated annual average per capita waste generation of about 2.2million tons per year. And 15 years after, the trend continues to increase dramatically as population swells, industrialization booms and urbanization stretches beyond initial city boundaries.
Records from Enugu State Environmental Sanitation Authority estimate that Ibadan, Port Harcourt, Aba and Enugu had an annual solid waste generation rate of 733,542; 285,466; 113,300 and 78,603 tones, respectively while Abeokuta, Kano, Jos and Benin recorded an estimated waste generation rate of 73,386; 72,066; 33,977 and 32,327 tones in that order in 1994.
Perhaps, there is no region with such a feverish population growth, industrial expansion and urbanization rate than the Niger Delta, which compares only with Lagos. This region, in 2003, had an average daily per capita solid waste generation of 3.61kg per day, which represents a daily waste generation rate of about 11.13million kg per day
and 4.08million tones per year.
And with a projected 6.0 per cent annual increase in per capita waste generation, the Niger Delta Development Commission’s Waste Management Sectoral Report indicates that the volume of solid waste generated in the region would hit 5.71million metric tons this year and shot up to 12.65million metric tons by 2015, given an estimated population of 34,340,837 and 44,997,065, respectively, based on 3.0 per cent average annual exponential growth rate. Of course, Rivers State expectedly has the highest daily solid waste generation density with values between 2.00 and 2.50kg per day.
Indeed, these wastes include food and their derivatives, wood, plastics, ceramics, disposable cans, garden debris, textiles, glass and bottles, litter receptacles, toxic, pathogenic, highly flammable, explosive and radioactive materials, scrap metals, human excreta and animal dung, shavings, pipes, brick and masonry material, syringes, unused drugs and other medical derivatives as well as dead humans and animals. In fact, the list is endless!
Of course, the mix of these municipal solid wastes points to the ever increasing health hazards associated with their indiscriminate dumping. Problems linked to poor water quality arising from improper waste disposal practices that have ravaged residents of Niger Delta cities like Port Harcourt are typhoid fever, diarrhoea, cholera, dysentery, hepatitis, hookworm infestation, skin diseases, malaria, lung, kidney, gastro-intestinal and respiratory tract infections. Refuse dumps are also veritable breeding grounds for disease carrying pests.
Other problems such as contamination from leachate plumes and organic growth from oxygen intake during pumping combine to make clean drinking water a scarce commodity in the entire area. As of today many abandoned and comatose boreholes dot the entire landscape.
Presently, the establishment of a waterborne sewerage system is not even a priority to the government as raw sewage get indiscriminately discharged into surface water bodies, while the environmental regulatory laws have never really been well enforced.
On the other hand, efforts to build improved and safer sanitation systems have largely remained unsuccessful. Reasons associated with such failure have largely been traceable to bureaucratic and technical shortcomings.
Most worrisome in the entire region is the absence of any functional public utility to meet the safe drinking water and sanitation needs of the people, where in existence, like in Owerri (Imo state) and Uyo ( Akwa ibom states) ,supplies are epileptic and marginal, depriving millions of households of clean water supplies. The result is an avalanche of water vendors hawking potentially unclean water via kiosks, trucks and carts often sourced from contaminated rivers and ground water sources.
The city of Port Harcourt in south-eastern Nigeria consists of about 1.5million people who altogether generate about 2000 tonnes of faecal sludge daily. Sadly, there is neither a sewerage system nor a municipal utility responsible for sanitation in the city. Improved sanitation or better sludge management is an important element in improving the urban environment. Apart from the aesthetic problems created by sludge, un-emptied pits, unlined pits, open defecation and old fashioned latrines give rise to noxious smells and polluting leachates, as well as providing breeding grounds for vermin, flies and mosquitoes.
There is no gain saying the fact that after 60 years of oil exploitation in the Delta, poverty remains a serious problem among the people, and social capital is broken. It is an irony that the goose that lays the golden egg stand to miss the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) unless immediate scalable interventions such as the one to be offered by the output of my research are urgently put in place.