Reviewing environmental sanitation policy
AGAINST the background of changing natural realities and the environment demanding proactive action, the move by the Federal Government to review Nigeria’s environmental sanitation policy is a step in the right direction as the country could no longer afford to be negligent on issues of the environment.
Minister of the Environment, Mrs. Laurentia Laraba Mallam, the other day, in Abuja, during the inauguration of an Inter-Ministerial Committee on the National Environmental Sanitation (NES), announced that the Federal Government had commenced the process of reviewing the National Environmental Sanitation Policy.
The review has become imperative because some information contained in the extant NES policy, which was developed 10 years ago, have fallen short of international best practices. Changes in public health practices, which have evolved since the NES policy was inaugurated, for example, are inhibiting sound public health. And according to her, with the current trend of developmental challenges and advent of new areas of sanitation practice, it is absolutely imperative for Nigeria to review the existing NES policy in order to comply with international best practices and also harmonise grey areas that are of concern to stakeholders for the overall maintenance of sound public health.
The ministry is, as a result, in the process of re-strategising on all goals and achievable implementation plans for national environmental sanitation.
That has also informed the need to broaden existing membership of the standing inter-ministerial committee to include more stakeholders. The new members of the NES committee would be drawn from relevant federal ministries and extra-ministerial departments, donor agencies, the armed forces, para-military organisations, NGOs and bilateral organisations.
The minister outlined the terms of reference to include the review of the 2015 NES policy document and its guidelines; development of strategic NES action plan and its implementation; plan and organise the National Environmental Sanitation Day (NESD), which holds on June 28 yearly, and carry out other activities necessary for the smooth implementation of the NES policy and its guidelines nationwide.
It is indeed regrettable that environmental sanitation across the country has been relegated to the background, according to the minister, stressing that many people hardly complied with the monthly exercise observed in many states.
Meanwhile, good sanitation is fundamental in the fight against poverty and preventable diseases which was why the international community, in 2008, agreed to reduce the population of persons without access to basic sanitation by 2015 as part of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).
However, the title of the new policy document on the “environment sanitation” doesn’t capture the complexity of all that the environment entails as it creates the impression that focuses only on environmental sanitation, while leaving out other aspects.
As a policy document, tagging it National Environment Policy would seem more appropriate to make it all-encompassing and to include strategies to manage the various aspects of the environment, namely: land, water and air. Environmental sanitation merely represents a set of actions taken to maintain the quality of the environment with the aim of curtailing the spread of diseases. Nigeria needs that and much more on the environment.
The NES review is coming at a time when little or no attention is paid to the environment and environment is one critical aspect of life that is curiously ignored to humanity’s own peril. The monthly environmental sanitation exercise, which has become a ritual in many states, perhaps, is the only thing that reminds people about the environment. Other than that, issues of the environment suffer total neglect, especially, in official quarters with only a few state governments actually having active programmes on the environment.
During the recently concluded national election campaigns, the environment was hardly an issue and no candidate at the national or state level ever outlined any concrete plans for the environment.
Given the poor attitude towards the environment in Nigeria, the onus is on the Ministry of Environment to put in place laws that should compel Nigerians to pay attention to the environment. On their part, government at all levels should actively champion the cause of the environment in the national interest.
With natural environmental disasters wreaking havoc in different parts of the world, all of which are attributable to climate and other changes in nature, Nigerian leaders’ disinterest in the environment and in nature is nothing short of disinterest in life lived in abundance and in health.