By Uche Ohia
The news that evacuation of overflowing waste bins and haphazardly dumped waste materials in Owerri metropolis is in progress is a delightful one. When I spoke to the ENTRACO boss, Hon. Alex Emeziem, last Saturday on rising public concerns about the worrisome waste invasion in Owerri, he assured me that the situation was being addressed. And that has happened!
We must commend the state government and ENTRACO for rising up to the challenge of dealing with what was, to all intents and purposes, an embarrassing situation. While we laud the authorities for doing the needful, however, we must as has been rightly observed, be wary of ad-hoc solutions.
Waste management is a critical task – a perennial challenge in the administration of any city or state and a responsibility on which the image of an administration, any administration, can be built or destroyed. Waste management solutions, therefore, must be practical, effective and sustainable.
What these past few days has exposed to any discerning citizen or resident in Imo State is that there is a serious disconnect between the governor’s GO GREEN, STAY CLEAN vision and the dominant attitude of Imo people and, particularly, Owerri residents to waste disposal and environmental sanitation. That may be understandable given the impulsive attitude of the immediate past administration to environmental issues for much of it’s tenure – and the inevitable hangover arising from that nonchalant era. Oh, I digress. I apologise.
While the waste disposal glitch in Owerri lasted, anyone driving around the city up to the outskirts would have noticed
• Unsightly mountains of waste around markets and trading places
• Undersized dumpsters overflowing with unsorted waste along major roads.
• Dumping and throwing of assorted waste on roadsides and drainages
• Dropping of refuse on road medians
• Dumping of refuse beside filled and half filled refuse bins
• Commercial Cart-pushers/refuse collectors dumping unbagged refuse near refuse bins or at roadsides
• Scavengers scattering refuse in all directions around refuse bins.
Clearly, a lot of work needs to be done. The psyche of the people has to be reoriented for them to imbibe waste management ethics so that the GO GREEN, STAY CLEAN Vision can naturally unfold. Only by so doing can Owerri retake it’s place among the cleanest cities in Nigeria.
For effective waste management in Owerri and in Imo State, the experiences of professionals and stakeholders like former ENTRACO bosses are important particularly those that excelled in that office. I spoke with Chief Willie Amadi (Ukwa) of Clean and Green fame, (now Public Complaints Commissioner) whose tenure at ENTRACO is still a benchmark in urban renewal of Owerri metropolis and he indicated that he has presented the template of his Clean & Green days to the government. That template may, of course, require review as the Owerri of 2019 is different from the Owerri of 2010. I spoke also to two more ex-ENTRACO bosses and it would appear that their ideas are yet to be sought by the present administration. All hands need to be on deck. Anyone that has contributions to make or that knows where the corpses are buried needs to be given room to contribute. Sadly, continuity has never been our strong point in these parts.
From my interaction with Chief Willie Amadi and other stakeholders, some issues need to be addressed for successful and seamless waste management in Imo State generally and in Owerri Capital City specifically. These issues are summarized hereunder for possible inclusion in the proposed Executive Brief:
Waste management, like fire fighting or nursing, is a duty that requires passion and training . Waste management administrators, therefore, need to have both passion and training to succeed. Passion is key. A casual attitude to waste management is a recipe for disaster and that could be politically costly.
- Orientation/Public Enlightenment
Massive orientation and public enlightenment are needed to drive waste management. Massive Orientation is required to align the people with the vision and focus of the present administration and to realign the people with their civic duties. The cost of nonchalance and ignorance is incalculable. Synergy between waste management administrators and citizens is necessary for sustainable waste management. This point has been made severally. No need to belabour it.
- Segmentation/ Enumeration
Careful Segmentation of the target area is necessary for effective waste management. It is important to delineate/map out Owerri following traditional and visible landmarks. It is also important to decentralize. Experienced refuse agents/ contractors need to be engaged to handle each segment/precinct subject to competitive, performance based MOUs so that ENTRACO can deal with matters of administration, intervention and enforcement. Hand in hand with segmentation of the waste management area should be the enumeration of residences and business places, segment by segment, to create a current digital database or to update whatever data base that exists. The data will enable waste collection and revenue collection planning.
- Citizen Participation
ENTRACO needs to seriously interface with Owerri residents through residents’ associations, estate associations, town unions, traditional rulers etc and through the mass media. Citizen participation and community participation are crucial to the successful implementation of any environmental sanitation policy. It will also ease the task of enumeration of houses in each residential area which is best handled by these associations that already know every resident by name in every nook and cranny of their operational area.
- Sorting of Waste
All over the world sorting of waste has been recognised as a fundamental part of waste management strategy. We cannot continue in the old order as that would amount to trying to reinvent the windmill. Without sorting, waste is difficult to handle and impossible to dispose. At the least, we use scavengers already involved in free range sorting at waste dumps to sort refuse. Ideally, we orientate our people to sort their waste before disposal. Sorting of waste is not rocket science. In a year, with massive orientation, it will become a norm.
In model cities and countries around the world that have excellent waste management records sorting of refuse is a fundamental part of the waste management process. They even provide separate colours of bins for different items of refuse –
metal plastic & polythene bottles, paper and house hold refuse.
Sorting is the starting point and those who generate refuse sort them before disposal.
Given the poor orientation of our people on sorting as a fundamental process of waste management, and given our energy deficiency which will make mechanised sorting extremely difficult if not impossible, engaging the scavengers who go from dump to dump sorting as an occupation will be very wise like has been pointed out – for a monthly stipend.
Waste management without sorting creates a bigger problem of a toxic, unmanageable dump in the long run.
- Bagging of Waste
Like sorting of waste, bagging of waste is a minimum requirement in standard waste disposal procedure. ENTRACO is doing that but more needs to be done by way of awareness creation and orientation. Given the intransigence of our people, sanction monitoring and enforcement need to be stepped up but the refuse bags must be available. Refuse collection is triply difficult without bagging and it makes environmental pollution inevitable. The reason refuse bin locations emit bad odour is because of unbagged and unsorted refuse.
- Collection of Waste
Waste collection strategies need standardization. ENTRACO waste collection locations ought to be designated and communicated to residents of the area. Placement of waste bins should be strategic. Big bins should be placed in high density areas, around schools, markets and sources of high volume waste. Small bins such as the ones presently on Imo roads should be reserved for low density residential areas and offices. Placement of waste bins on side roads should be preferable to major roads where overflowing bins could quickly constitute eyesores to passersby.
- Evacuation of Waste
Evacuation of waste whether by ENTRACO officials or agents/contractors should be carried out consistently to avoid overflows. Ideally, evacuation should be done in the night to avoid disruptions of traffic which have become a common phenomena with refuse evacuation. Citizens are not interested in waste disposal or evacuation but in a clean environment.
Similarly, Road sweeping should be carried out at dawn – before the day breaks. Road sweepers should be trained to close before 6.30am daily as they used to do in the past. If they delay till morning rush hours, they help to worsen traffic gridlocks.
It is impractical for ENTRACO to attempt evacuation with it’s own equipment alone. Decentralization of the evacuation duty will help ensure greater effectiveness.
Dumping of refuse as a sole waste disposal strategy needs to be reviewed. Six effective waste disposal methods are globally in use:
• Preventing or reducing waste generation
• Sanitary Landfill and
• Disposal in ocean/sea
Effective waste disposal in contemporary times calls for deployment of a combination of any of these practical methods than the prevailing practice of dumping waste in one huge open cavity or land-fill that quickly transforms into a public nuisance and a potential source of pollution and epidemic.
- Revenue Generation
Waste management is a self-sustaining activity. Imo State is probably the only place in the whole world where residents do not pay for refuse disposal or waste management. The administration of former Gov. Rochas Okorocha virtually scrapped collection of environmental sanitation fees from Owerri residents! Between 2011 and 2019, there was virtually no payment of Sanitation Fees or Environmental Sanitation Fees in Imo State. Only multinational/ telecom companies and corporate bodies were required to make payments on that subhead. That was a weird policy! Populist, maybe but weird just the same. All over the world, the standard practice is that the polluter pays. The polluter-pays principle presupposes that it is the responsibility of the polluting party to pay for the impact on the environment of the refuse he generates. With respect to waste management, this generally refers to the requirement for a waste generator to pay for appropriate disposal of the waste materials.
Invariably, therefore, a culture of paying for environmental sanitation has to be rebuilt. Again, this calls for massive orientation. Also the computation of sanitation fees payable by residents should take into consideration the sanitation tariff structure that obtains in similar cities like Umuahia, Awka, Enugu, and Abakaliki and, maybe, Aba and Onitsha.
- Enforcement/Sanction Monitoring
The success of Waste Management administration is anchored on enforcement and sanction monitoring and it must be applied without fear or favour. In addition to appointment/deployment of Environmental Health Officers (sanitary inspectors) to inspect, advise and issue notices, the establishment of virile Environmental Sanitation Courts to handle defaulters and violators is inevitable.
Graduates of the School of Health Technology, Amaigbo, the School of Health Technology, Okporo Orlu, Imo State, the School of Public Health Nursing, Owerri and the College of Health Technology, Aba are well suited for the role of Environmental Sanitation officers.
- Law Review
To achieve an effective waste management regime will require a review of existing legislation on Environmental Sanitation and Waste Management in Imo State. The tariff structure, for instance, needs a review. The population has increased substantially, the configuration of residential and commercial areas has changed substantially, the economy has become substantially depressed, and digitization and globalization have raised public expectations and ignited a clamour for international best practices in governance on a scale previously unknown. A review of the law will provide the legal framework for successful waste management administration.
This is not exhaustive, of course, nor even elaborate. It was not intended to be: it is merely a summary intended to agitate our minds on the subject of waste management which is crucial for our well beingas law abiding citizens.
By Uche Ohia , Ph.D