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Reviewing environmental sanitation policy

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Sanitation-exercise-in-lagosAGAINST 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.


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1 Comment
  • c. ihenacho

    20th May, 2015

    Dear Editor-in-Chief,

    Please permit me to comment on your Editorial of 13th May, “Reviewing Environmental Sanitation Policy.” Pardon me, but I am compelled to comment formally. I commend you and the Guardian Newspaper for picking up on this issue, and in particular for your observations, which I quote: “The NES (National Environmental Sanitation) 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.” You added: “… issues of the environment suffer total neglect, especially, in official quarters with only a few state governments actually having active programmes on the environment.” You went further to state: “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.” I had to present these excerpts because they could easily be glossed over by readers and by so doing, missed the salient points of your editorial.

    Your observations compelled me write, and I thank you for raising the nation’s consciousness to our pressing environmental issues, at least among those who bothered to read your editorial. I must also commend the Honourable Minister of Environment, Mrs. Laurentia Laraba Mallam for her initiative and exemplary leadership since she was appointed the Minister of Environment. Her latest action on the review of the National Environmental Sanitation (NES) Policy is laudable. I will however, concur with you that a review of the National Environmental Policy Act, at this point will be a very good start to assess and address in holistic and comprehensive manner a range of environmental issues facing the nation. The last time any attempt was made to review the National Environmental Policy Act was in 2007.

    I also agree with you that the review of the NES is very limiting in scope. I believe that developing a National Policy on Integrated Solid Waste Management; and National Policy on Hazardous Materials Management will be better approaches to tackling all forms urban and rural solid and hazardous wastes problems in the country, which will also tackle sanitation issues in a very special way. National policies on solid and hazardous wastes will set targets and controls, and impose mandates on Federal ministries, departments and agencies, and state governments on various aspects of wastes, and
    sectors engaged in waste generation by instituting environmentally sound management of wastes; creating an enabling environment for innovations in waste-to-wealth operations; and developing waste-based industries and markets; creating massive and effective jobs and employment of skilled and unskilled labour force, especially for our teeming unemployed youths.

    A review of most advanced and a growing number of developing nations’ environmental programmes on waste management suggest that environmentally sound waste management policies couple with effective implementation measures have resulted in not only improving the quality of the environment, but have significantly improved the standard of living of the people, and created a new economic sector based on environmentally sound management of wastes.

    In the course of the my professional career, first as regulatory official and a consultant in the United States, I learned firsthand how national policies are mainstreamed into states, local governments, and special districts with effective enforcement and compliance requirements to ensure that desired goals and objectives and achieved. Similar approaches should be considered by federal and state governments in Nigeria.

    I therefore, buttress your observations by suggesting that the Minister of Environment and the in-coming administrations at both federal and state levels of governments should serious seek a review of the National Environmental Policy Act, amend it by setting new agenda and drawing a road map to strategically manage the myriads of pressing environmental issues facing our country, and also take measurable steps to effectively deal with solid and hazardous wastes problems wreaking havoc on the lives of our people and the quality of our environment.

    I will end with this caveat, if the waste industry in Nigeria can be developed and well managed, it will boost the nation’s economy, because most of what is thrown away, burnt, buried or dumped into surface waters of Nigeria today, can be harnessed as resource which can be traded in the market. If we have better structure in place to manage it, the wealth and jobs created can be measured and indexed. Who knows, waste-based economy could lead to rebasing the nation’s
    economy again, if thant happens, it could be as big as or even bigger than Nollywood’s.

    I thank you for the opportunity to comment on your Editorial.

    Christian N. Ihenacho, President/Managing Director, OJI Environmental Services, Email: ojienvtlsvcs@gmail.com