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Paradise lost as ‘Canaan City’ is festooned with filth, risks epidemic 

By Anietie Akpan, Deputy Editor, South South
10 July 2022   |   4:16 am
For over six months, major streets and junctions in Calabar, the Cross River capital have been blocked by heaps of refuse.

Traders and refuse struggle for space at Nelson Mandela Street, by Watt market.jpg

For over six months, major streets and junctions in Calabar, the Cross River capital have been blocked by heaps of refuse.

Motorists, traders, and pedestrians now struggle for any available space to eke a living daily. Many have no option but to meander their way through the mounds of refuse on the streets of Calabar, especially in the South. Some parts of the city are overwhelmed and are literally, taken over by dirt and garbage.

Some of the streets that are worst hit include Mbukpa, St Mary, by Inyang, Ekpo Abasi by Cross River University, Goldie by Holy Child Secondary school, Goldie by Watt Market, White House, Egerton, Charleswalker, and many others in Calabar South.

Streets in Calabar Municipality are not exempted. They include Otop Abasi, Ikot Ishie, Ikot Ansa, Akai, Dr. Cyril Dibia in Ekorinim, Eyo Eta, and others. They have all constituted an eyesore.

Traders now struggle space with heaps of refuse to display their wares. The stench oozing from these waste heaps is repulsive and repelling. They attract flies and rodents, which carry Lassa fever and other diseases. But, it seems traders, mostly women at Watt and Mbukpa markets, are used to that disgusting odour emanating from the rubbish, as they go about their businesses unperturbed.

They manage to create space in between refuse heaps to sell their wares, just to make ends meet.

The Guardian wondered why the stench did not deter them from trading in such a dirty and unhygienic environment.

A female trader, who gave her name as Mama Nko, said: “We have no choice. We are used to the dirt and the smell. We have to sell to get food on the table for our children.”

However, medical experts say that their olfactory sense or sense of smell is used to the stench and they don’t perceive it any longer. Meanwhile, the health hazard is enormous.

Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Science and Director University of Calabar Carbon Innovation Centre (Centre of Excellence for Climate Change), Dr. Raphael Offiong, said: “The issue of the waste management in Calabar is disheartening. Refuse heaps have blocked every nook and cranny of the state.

They are becoming monuments and celebrated features in Calabar. It’s not just in Calabar South, it is across the Calabar metropolis. From Calabar South to Calabar Municipality, refuse heaps have taken over.

Roads have become impassable. People cannot commute easily, as they have to cover their noses due to the stench from this very harmful odour. They breed dangerous insects and rodents. Rats, including rodents, harbour diseases and transmit to humans through contact with food. The situation is worse during this rainy season. These heaps of refuse cause floods and damage the roads. Rainwaters that settle on tarred roads percolate into coal tar. They run into adjoining gutters, find their way to the nearby streams, and keep polluting the environment. They carry along pollutants, which could lead to water contamination.

The waste itself also dirties the environment, thereby destroying and damaging environmental aesthetics.

Offiong said: “The aesthetics of Calabar is gone. What we are seeing today is something else. Calabar used to be a city that all of us were proud of. We were conscious of the environment. We bragged about it being the cleanest city in Nigeria then. But now, the agency saddled with the responsibility of clearing waste in the city is not doing enough. The government too has its challenge. How can we solve this problem? First, let us start with the government. The state government should at this point realise that local councils were set up to play certain roles that could make life better for persons at the grassroots. They should hand over waste management to the local councils. The local councils should beyond that move it to the communities to clear these refuse heaps. We can do it and we can achieve a cleaner and healthy environment.

“Secondly, people living in the city and other communities lack quality environmental education. We are talking about waste generation, we should also talk about proper waste disposal and management. All we see are heaps of refuse in every available space in the city.

Everyone should be blamed. But, Governor Ben Ayade-led government should take a larger share of the blame. People generate waste from their homes and dump them everywhere. The government is trying, but it has not done enough.

The government is trying the fix the deplorable roads and residents are dumping their waste there. Should we blame the government? If residents could separate their waste from homes, sorting polythene and synthetic materials, and biodegradable, metallic and pack them separately, it will be very easy for the government to evacuate them.

The government can give locations for the dumping of refuse. Residents can dump the biodegradables at a special site. That is where the issue of waste-to-wealth begins. We dump papers and plastic together as well as metallic substances. The separation will be easy to manage.

“Instead of dumping them, we can recycle. Look at what I’m wearing, it is 3R: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. If we can adopt this mentality, it will go a long way in helping society.”

On the implication of poor waste management, Offiong said: “The implication is that we are eating contaminated fish and aquatic life is affected. Go to Calabar Beach, where we have the boats taking off and then go to all those living around seaside beaches, you will be amazed that in the morning, there’s what we call “morning conference”. They have no toilets. They defaecate into the river. Everybody disposes of human or biological waste anyhow. When they do that, the fishes also depend on them as a source of livelihood. And in every stool you pass, you release the egg of ascaris. The fishes carry and incubate it. Also, the harmful substances from waste the fishes carry are stored in their brains and veins.

“Beyond the aquatic life, how about the plants, the vegetables, the fruits we eat? They are all taken from there, and then into our system. Many types of cancer and diseases we suffer are not from “witchcraft’. They are contracted when we eat contaminated foods and fruits. Poor waste management has many implications. But, we can deal with it, if the government has the willpower. If the local councils have the willpower, if councillors have the will, if our youths, community leaders, women leaders, and family heads are interested, then we can start an enlightenment programme and campaign. We can educate ourselves on the benefits of a clean and healthy environment.

It’s just to put the right persons in the right places. We can engage in advocacy, then get the right attitude towards waste management. this could be history.

“ We need to do geospatial mapping of solid waste management. We should support it with pictures. By the time we publish it, I think all authorities and agencies concerned will look at it. It’s a shame on all of us as a people; it’s a shame on the government; it’s a shame on all institutions around. We all generate waste. Much has been said about disposal, let us also talk about generation. Look at the tonnes of waste, that’s all wealth. If we can manage and sort them well, none will be on the street. We can plough them back and make money from it.”

On how to recycle some waste products, Offiong said: “My deputy director and I attended a conference in Lagos sometime in January. We saw what they were doing with plastic and the rest. Then, we brought it back. Now, we are looking for support so that we can begin with our centre after the strike. We will see how every plastic in Calabar can be harnessed. You don’t need to throw it anywhere, just gather it and bring it to the University of Calabar. We will be your off-taker. Every bottle of waste brought to the University of Calabar will be paid for. The university will make money, you will make money. At the end of the day, our environment will be completely clean and clear.

“For biodegradable waste like our foods, vegetables, we will turn them to compost manure and use them to cultivate fruits. We will make money from it”.

He continued: “Waste is dangerous. It harbours mosquitoes, rodents, among others. That’s not good for us and the environment. Let us pick a day for us to “weep’ for waste in Calabar. Let us make it voluntarily. Environmental experts will join you on the street with the banners and speak out on waste management in Calabar.”

Also speaking on the health hazard of refuse, the former Chairman of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), Cross River branch, Dr. Effiong Mkpanam, speaking said: “The health hazards are numerous. They include physical, chemical, biological, and psychosocial. Physical include environmental degradation. Biological includes all forms of sicknesses, including cholera, diarrhea, and typhoid fever, among others. Mental health effects include violence and suicidal tendencies.”

He said general sanitation was not a one-man business.

“It’s everybody’s business to keep the environment clean. All of us must join hands to keep the city clear of waste. Government alone can’t do it. You don’t expect the government to put all its resources into waste management and disposal. The private sector should be part of it. Today, there is biogas. It is something every Nigerian should be involved in.

A vehicle makes its way round a sprawling mountain of refuse at Nelson Mandela Street, by Watt Market

“On health implications, Mkpanam said: “There has been an increase of patients in hospitals. Cases of diarrhea, vomiting, cholera, typhoid, and others have soared these days. This is caused by our dirty environment and contaminated water. You cannot blame the government. Residents dump refuse anyhow. They even block the drainages with waste.”

Mkpanam said: “Refuse heaps are not urgently disposed of or evacuated by the government. The private sector should partner with the government. The government can divide Calabar into zones and allocate it to various companies.

“For instance, one company should be in charge of Federal Housing Estate. The firm should evacuate refuse while residents pay for services rendered. We pay taxes, but we still have to pay to keep our environment clean. ‘Prevention is better than cure,” it is not the business of government alone as it always tells us there is no money.

Reacting to the refuse situation in Calabar, the General Manager, Cross River Waste Management Board, Mr. Sunday Oko: “It is not true that refuse is everywhere in Calabar. We had issues, but that has been resolved. If you have 100 per cent and we have done more than 60 per cent we have done well. If you move around the city, you will realise that we have done more than 60 per cent. Otop Abasi is the headquarters of the trailers that bring carrots, sugar cane, and other items to Calabar. Thought you have gone to Bateba, Amika Utuk, Bakery by Uwanse, Uwanse Market, Ikot Ishie by Akai street, Edibe Edibe, Charmley, White House, Jebs, we have cleared those areas. I have not finished, but I have done more than 60 per cent.

I know the places I have not touched. We are in the field and still working. We have not stopped evacuation. It is not just possible that everywhere in Calabar is clean. We have written to the Hausa community to keep their environment clean. The volume of waste they generate there is beyond manual labour. We must bring a Pell Loader to evacuate refuse in that place. That is our main target”.

“ We have evacuated garbage in Mbukpa. We put up a ribbon, but we are in the rainy season and we have lots of corn, pears, and everything coming in. We are evacuating them from street to street. We cannot tell residents not to drop their waste. Between the time we had issues and now, is it the same volume? As we go round, we try to cover everywhere that refuse heaps are dumped. You cannot prevent people from dumping their refuse on the streets. We work every day. If I clear Watt Market today and I go back the next morning, I will find new heaps. It is a daily thing. Don’t you see our trucks everyday on the street?”

When asked about the solution to the problem, Oko said: “The only solution is to continue to evacuate. I cannot prevent people from dumping. We do clear the markets but you know that the volume of refuse generated in the market in only one day. We plan our day. If we clear Bogobiri today, tomorrow you don’t expect us to come to Bogobiri again. As you are coming back you are coming to meet refuse. We should be appreciated for the much we have done. This is the rainy season. There is nowhere we can go around Calabar without seeing refuse heaps. This does not mean we are not working. We are working.

“When we had issues for two weeks, we did not work. We have resolved those issues and we are working. We have many trucks to use and we have people on the ground. This is the rainy season and every crop is in the market. You don’t compare this period to the dry season when people don’t eat much. Now people are eating well. If people are not eating, they will not generate waste for you to evacuate daily. Otop Abasi is a flash point and we are planning to attack it. We need about 10 trucks to come to Otop Abasi and two Pell Loaders. We are working.”