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Published On: Mon, Aug 18th, 2014

State of hygiene in FCT and threat of Ebola outbreak

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Portable water near a refuse dumpBy Stanley Onyekwere

In view of the current outbreak of deadly Ebola Virus Disease (EVD)  in the country, the unending outburst of dirt on the streets and other public places in Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) does not only deface the aesthetics of the city, but colossally portends mortal dangers to residents and visitors alike.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Ebola (formerly known as Ebola haemorrhagic fever) is a severe, often fatal illness, with a case fatality rate of up to 90%. It is one of the world’s most virulent diseases.The infection is transmitted by direct contact with the blood, body fluids and tissues of infected animals or people. Severely ill patients require intensive supportive care.

During an outbreak, those at higher risk of infection are health workers, family members and others in close contact with sick people and deceased patients. It outbreaks can devastate families and communities, but the infection can be controlled through the use of recommended protective measures in clinics and hospitals, at community gatherings, or at home.

As expected, more than ever, people are worried about the state of hygiene in FCT, as it is not uncommon to come in contact with refuse bins overflowing with dirt right in the city centre and refuse heaps at most other places. No thanks to the laxity of the relevant authorities in the FCT.

By most accounts, the nation’s capital as a fast growing city that is anchored on a sound architectural masterpiece blue print, with its park-like setting and tree-lined walkways should capture the essence of a warm sense of a decent community.

However, the beauty of the nation’s seat of power is grimed by continued outburst of dirt in the territory, thereby turning it into an eyesore of sought.

Over time, a closer look would reveal images unpleasant to the feelings of residents and visitors have steadily surface as the streets of the FCT are covered with heaps of dirt and other harmful elements.

Right in front of residential and businesses apartments along the streets, bags of refuse are being dumped on the floor along the streets; inside the lawns and flower hedges, especially near public buildings.

Investigation, reveal that aside from dumping waste on the ground along footpaths, waysides and riversides, there is increased cases of people defecating in the open with reckless abandon, particularly in areas recording high human and vehicular traffic such as motor-parks, marketplaces, ministries, low- and medium-density residential areas and squatter settlements.

Some of the notorious spots within the city centre include: behind the cultural centre housing the FCT Social Development Secretariat near Federal Service in Garki;  Gudu market area, Berger bridge bus stop, behind Wuse Market Bridge by Maitama junction axis, Area 11 by total filling station near Police Headquarters, Utako Market through Jabi axis and 3rd Avenue by Gwarinpa village.

At the outskirts areas, where the situation is worst of, owing to acute absence of facilities for proper waste disposal, the Nyanya field by Checkingpoint, Nyanya junction/Wednesday market axis and major streets in the area, unarguably stands conspicuously, as unattended waste in refuse containers saturates the environment with its bad odour.

Also, it is common sight for pedestrians and commuters traversing the streets of Abuja to be accosted by hordes of pick-pockets, beggars, aggressive street-vendors, and hoodlum gangs, including human feces, all posing a lot of dangers to hapless users and residents living around these places.

Again, visibly absence in the city streets, especially in public places is the provision of public convenience (what many understand as public toilets or rest houses). As a result, it is not uncommon to see people rushing into nearby bushes to relieve themselves in the daytime or inside open undeveloped plots at night- a revolting spectacle absolutely unheard of in similar cities which Abuja prides to chasing or at par with.

Although there is a handful of waste disposal bins scattered along most streets of the city centre and districts for public usage, but it is either subjected to abuse or  equally if not most important to ensure that they are not abused in any form. However, it is not certain whether these few facilities provided by the authorities are designed and designated correctly to serve its purpose.

For a long time, some of  agencies in charge of ensuring strict compliance with city’s plan and environmental laws including prohibiting street hawking, in the quest to carry this mandate has allegedly accumulated  for itself a notorious history of engaging in ‘illegality ranging from extortion, brutality, intimidation, assault and battery against perceived harmless offenders.

There is no doubt that Abuja among other big cities in the country, boast of having better city infrastructure, but checks reveal a dismal non-management of the environmental challenges arising from the obvious over stretched facilities in the territory.

With approximately over 3 million population, and about four decades gone, Abuja still paints picture of an expensive city where the horse is routinely placed ahead of the cart, where massive architectural works are provided while essential social facilities languish in hopeless abandonment.

For instance, under the Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) Act of 1997, the agency is saddled with the responsibility of ridding Abuja streets of hawkers and street vendors including commercial sex workers, through strict enforcement of environmental laws, have been accused severally accused of indulging in some of these illegalities. But occasionally, AEPB officials are seen carrying out raids in a commando style.

While some of the officials turn into traffic warders others remain in their patrol vans chatting waiting for their prey as well time to close shop; preferring instead to harass and extort money from transport operators and hawkers, and allowing the few available bins to overflow.

Consequently, environment related elements like drainage, sewage, service ducts, street lights, pedestrian walkways and so on, which both the government and residents ought to protect jealously from any form of vandalisation and abuse, are grossly relegated to the background.

Despite the setting up a ministerial environmental task force, which appears more concerned with chasing street traders and demolishing illegal make-shift structures in the city, no much result has been recorded.

Thus, it still baffles many that with billions of naira sunk into provision of infrastructure for districts where the affluent reside, the larger chunk of the Territory wallows in neglect. A development many attributed to the jamboree posture of the relevant stakeholders towards addressing the issues.

And with the usual poor hygiene practices among the people especially those in rural settlements, this development would only gain even more momentum, if nothing was done by the relevant authorities to check mate the unfortunate trend.

Meanwhile, reacting to the development, AEPB’ the Head of Information outreach programme,  Mr. Joe Ukairo, blamed it on problem of inadequacy of waste bins and the current terrain at the FCT dumpsite during the rainy season; saying that’s why  there are a little bit of backlog of waste in the city.

According to him, there is a basic requirement for every resident and offices towards sustainable solid waste management; which is containerization, so as to keep waste generated inside an adequate waste bin that can take up to at least five days if not a week.

“Knowing that the terrain during the rainy season in FCT is entirely different from the terrain during the dry season, there are some challenges facing our contractors, in regards to the dumpsite.

“It is the same contractors, but there are quite some challenges with the dumpsite because they are not developed. So their evacuation vehicles tend to sink in the muddy road, thereby slowing their turn around timing of waste collection and evacuation, as a result of the rainy season.

“Even in developed society, I think the major problem is inadequacy of waste bins. There is no place in the world that you see daily service of waste evacuation. But in some of those public establishments like the Federal Secretariat, we ensure daily waste evacuation.

“The problem is the problem of inadequacy of waste bins; if the waste bins are not adequate, so if there is the backlog of waste just for one day, it would look as if we have not been packing them for a week.”

The AEPB’s spokesman adds; “Even as much as that the issue of outbreak of Ebola is not only related to the waste, we can’t just look at Ebola alone, we have to look at the issue of sustainable sanitation in the Territory.

“Today, on every other aspects of environment hygiene, it is as if nobody is concerned. So let it be the totality of our whole life, so that we don’t have to wait until cholera come, then we will leave Ebola alone and star pursuing and fighting against the disease.

“So these are why it looks as if waste is all over the place, and if those things are adequate, it would cover up some disruptions on evacuation effort.

“While I’m saying that, i want to encourage the residents that if their waste bins are filed up and the contractors have not moved in, don’t just dump it on the ground, but please they should get a garbage bag and package it for the evacuating contractor to pick it up, however, in case it stays for more than necessary, due to the inability of any contractor to service them, they should call our hotlines.”

But obviously, the development could be traceable to the inability on the part of the officials recruited by the past and present supervising authorities; in this sense, the FCTA and its allies, to diligently carry out its primary duty of keeping the territory clean.

For there to be an end in sight to these mortal dangers in the city, residents who spoke to Peoples Daily suggested an intensified consideration for public health and safety, concerned with the prevention of diseases, accidents and pollution through efficientenvironment management system, which facilitate the comfort and enjoyment of living.

Without directly pointing the fingers, the fact that the metropolis, from the much make-believe glamour and grandeur, is sliding downwards, looking more like inner-city settlements around the FCT, indicates that either the AEPB as the watch dog is in deep slumber or its master is being a bit floppy in doing the ‘needful’.

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