Operation Green Justice - Newsreel

 

Use of Erosion Gullies as Landfills Is A Recipe for Disaster 
 - WIEF

 

 

Alex C. Ikefuna - Director, Operation Green Justice

A US-based expert in urban planning and Director of WIEF Operation Green Justice, Alex C. Ikefuna, has warned that deployment of erosion gullies or man-made pits, such as quarries, as landfills is "a recipe for legal disaster for Anambra state". From a recent revelation by former ANSEPA boss, Dr. Odili Ojukwu, Ikefuna deduces that use of unprepared sites for disposal of toxic solid waste, contrary to professional advice,  "constitutes a public health hazard" for residents of the entire area. "What the state is doing is taking advantage of apparent lack of environmental awareness by the public of the health implications of using gullies as waste facilities", Ikefuna remarked. 

"The government is advised to desist from current actions that are detrimental to public health and to find an alternative environmentally sensitive option. This should be done quickly before it becomes a costly emergency", he added.

Onitsha is a commercial town on the eastern bank of lower River Niger. It has an estimated population of 1.5 million and hosts the largest daily market in this part of Nigeria. Huge mounds of solid waste accumulate, on regular basis, in vicinities of markets that abound in the city. Until recently, no concerted effort has been made to collect and properly dispose of solid waste in Onitsha and other major urban centers in Anambra state. Urban sanitation, including waste management, used to be the responsibility of a public agency called the Anambra State Environmental Protection Agency (ANSEPA). In 2006, when the Obi administration came into office, an attempt was made to privatize the work of ANSEPA by engaging 10 firms to handle cleanup and solid waste management in Onitsha, Awka and Nnewi on contractual basis. Suffice it to say that this arrangement collapsed before it could even get off the ground.

The state's environmental ministry, under Dr. Ifedi Okwenna, elected to designate an abandoned sand/soil quarry in outskirts of Onitsha, along the Onitsha - Owerri highway, as a temporary landfill despite the fact that the former ANSEPA boss, Dr. Odili Ojukwu, had advised against choice of that location for waste disposal. Without any studies to ascertain suitability of the site to function as a landfill, tens of thousands of tons of unsorted trash and garbage are being dumped at this makeshift location by all and sundry. It is natural that leachate from from the amalgam of solid waste at the improvised landfill would contain heavy metals, dioxins and other toxic chemicals which contaminate the surface area as well as the groundwater sources on which the local population depends on daily basis.

 

Huge solid waste dump near Ochanja Market, Onitsha. Leachate from waste is clearly evident in the foreground.

 

Dead pig laying on public sidewalk along a major thoroughfare in Fegge, Onitsha. 

 

 

 

 

 

Semi-wild pigs roam the solid waste dumps that abound in available open spaces in commercial and residential districts of Onitsha. Ingesting toxic contents of unsorted waste can be fatal even to pigs. Pigs and humans share similar organ physiology and metabolic pathways. It should be presumed, therefore, that toxins and diseases which kill pigs can also kill human beings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Potentially toxic waste dumps like this is transported with trucks to makeshift landfills that are not engineered to prevent polluting the surrounding area as well as the natural surface and underground fresh water sources for the local population. The waste mound seen in photo is less than a hundred feet from eastern bank of the River Niger.

 

 

 

 

Another illegal huge dump at the periphery of Onitsha Main Market

Operation Green Justice Director listed inevitable shortcomings of indiscriminate dumping of waste in gullies as follows:

  • This makes the need to seriously consider developing a long-range comprehensive solid waste management plan with 10-15 years capacity irrelevant.
  • The gully solution failed to consider land suitability analysis which would identify those areas in Onitsha that are considered geothechnically unsuitable for sanitary landfill and/or waste disposal.
  • The refuse deposited in these gullies are not thoroughly compacted and covered with at least six (6) inches of compacted cover material dirt to prevent fly and rodent attraction, blowing of paper, unpleasant odors, fire hazards, and an unsightly appearance. Refuse compaction and covering would prevent health hazards.
  • Since the waste contains dead animals and highly putrescent wastes (eggs, offal, entrails and sludge), they decompose rapidly and create potential health hazards. The choice of gully landfill option failed to consider these hazardous tendencies that should have been a top priority.
  • Solid waste disposal in Onitsha is beset with challenges and gully disposal strategy is a step in the wrong direction. Low elevation, proximity to River Niger, lack of good drainage system and high water table are just a few of the problems facing solid waste management in Onitsha. Due to these problems, the potential for dangers to the health and safety of the public as well as to the environment are real and must be addressed. The way to address these threats is to plan properly and to stop using the gullies as waste disposal facilities.
  • The potential for contamination of underground water table from leaking leachate is highly probable. Toxic chemicals in leachate are known to often cause many types of cancers, especially in children.

Ikefuna, who has decades of practical experience as town-planning expert in the US, counseled the responsible authorities in Anambra state to "desist from the current actions that are detrimental to public health and to find an alternative environmentally sensitive option.  This should be done quickly before it becomes a costly emergency". Giving a detailed opinion, he emphasized that the Anambra state should "strive for the development of a comprehensive solid waste management plan backed by enabling pieces of legislation with the intent to prevent environmental degradation, to manage resources, and to effectively reduce and manage solid waste for Anambra state and its residents". 

"The state has a compelling interest in protecting public health, promoting and sustaining an effective comprehensive solid waste management strategy that addresses waste reduction, collection, transfer and disposal", the WIEF Operation Green Justice Director concluded.

 

 

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