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Lagos, the environment and endemic diseases



Photo Credit: Adebule Tobi

Photo Credit: Adebule Tobi

Recently, the Deputy Governor of Lagos State, Dr. Idiat Adebule, expressed utter disgust at the poor sanitary condition of some areas she visited with her entourage during the state’s monthly environment sanitation exercise at Apapa-Iganmu Local Council Development Area in Lagos. According to reports, residents of the area dumped refuse and waste indiscriminately on some streets and in the drainage channel along Ijora-Badiya railway.

While the monthly sanitation exercise was going on, many residents were seen seated in front of their houses, chatting away in very filthy atmosphere; totally unconcerned. An obviously disappointed Adebule couldn’t hide her discontentment with the state of affairs as she said: “I am not happy with the dirty state of this environment and many residents here are not observing the sanitation even when their surroundings are dirty. The more we treat the environment with impunity by throwing domestic waste at unauthorized places, the higher our chances of getting sick. The amount of money that will be used in treating communicable environmental diseases, when contracted, could have been utilized in other sectors of one’s economy’’.

Considering the fact that the world is currently being plagued by many mysterious diseases partly occasioned by poor sanitary attitude and filthy environment, every resident of Lagos should be interested in the health of the metropolis. Of late, Latin America battles with Zika virus which is caused mainly by the poor state of the environment where stagnant bodies of water produce mosquitoes that infect people with the deadly virus. There are fears that, with time, the virus might spread to some other parts of world. According to experts, except we change our attitude to the environment, more terrible diseases might soon be on the loose.

It is no longer news that Lassa fever is currently on the prowl in Nigeria with states such as Bauchi, which recorded the first case in November, 2015, Nassarawa, Niger, Taraba, Kano, Rivers, Edo, Plateau, Gombe, Osun, Ondo, Lagos and Oyo States being some of the worst hit. Till date, the disease has claimed the lives of over 50 people with not less than 80 reported cases. Experts have traced the outbreak of the disease in these areas mostly to the filthy state of the environment. This is because the rat that is responsible for it could only thrive in places where environmental degradation endures.

Considering the huge population and metropolitan nature of Lagos, no doubt, the city could be more vulnerable when it comes to the spread of such deadly diseases as Lassa fever. This should be of serious concern to all residents of the metropolis. We must not forget the Ebola virus debacle in Lagos in a hurry. But for providence and the sacrifice of a few individuals, public officials and other stakeholders, it could have been worse. Therefore, if there is any group of people who shouldn’t toil with the state of its environment, it ought to be Lagos residents. Wisdom, thus, requires that this isn’t the time to indulge in unwholesome environmental practices that could endanger the health of the people. It took the action of just one man to bring in the Ebola virus into the country with its attendant human and economical losses. Hence, the poor sanitary attitude of a few people could spell doom for the whole metropolis.

Ironically, a lot of people are still yet to come to term with the truth that the quality of our lives as human beings is substantially a reflection of the quality of the environment which we inhabit. Many still seem not to comprehend that the environment which we inhabit, like kola in Igbo culture, is life in itself. It is whatever we give to the environment that it gives back to us. It is simply garbage in, garbage out. Most cities of the world experience environmental abuse as a result of the ignorance of the people when it comes to environmental matters. It is from this perspective that one really takes exception to various habits and activities of Lagos residents that could have grievous health implications. How, for instance, does one explain such despicable attitudes as defecating or urinating in public places, indiscriminate refuse dumping, drainage blockage, construction on waterways, drainage alignments ,throwing of refuse into canals, turning garden and parks into arena for environmentally unfriendly activities among others ?

No matter the strength of the justification, one is strongly convinced that there is no rational explanation for anyone to indulge in unhealthy habits such as open defecation, dumping of refuse into drainages, burning of wastes in open spaces among others. As a people, we need to really come to terms with the significance of an improved environmental habit. When we deliberately choose to act in manners that could endanger the environment, we are the ones that would certainly bear the consequences of such actions. Hence, we need to realize that the need to ensure a clean environment should be everybody’s responsibility. Research has shown that people who reside in filthy places are more prone to contracting terrible diseases and as such easily vulnerable to avoidable deaths.

It is, therefore, important for residents of densely populated areas such as Okokomaiko, Ajangbadi, Ajegunle, Ijora Badia, Ojo, Mushin, some parts of Badagry and others to fully imbibe the culture of strict personal and environmental hygiene. In most of these places, it is common to see human feaces along the road or even see people engaged in open defecation. It is rather frightening that not a few of the houses in these locations are without toilets. So, residents make do with anything when the call of nature comes. This is an unhealthy practice which, if not properly checkmated, could open the door for chaos in the land. Nothing should be spared by concerned individuals and relevant authorities to reverse this dangerous trend.

With current threat to global health, we need to become conscious of the danger of poor sanitary habits. If we are to achieve an improvement in health and sanitation, reduction in occurrence of infectious epidemics, reduction in man-hour lost to sickness and disease, reduction in absenteeism amongst school children as a result of avoidable illness, improvement in aesthetics and beauty of the environment, we need to start treating the environment better. As Dr. Adebule rightly asserted, funds spent on treatment of preventable infectious diseases could be conserved for other projects.

With global upsurge in the occurrence of natural disasters, partly caused by abuse of the environment, Lagos residents need to note that protecting the environment is, without doubt, the best way to protect themselves against diseases and other harmful environmental hazards. That we have not experienced monumental environmental tragedy should not be interpreted as being immune from such.

Ogunbiyi is of the Features Unit, Lagos State Ministry of Information & Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja.

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