Battle against refuse
Residents of Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, are not finding it funny the way waste is managed by those in charge of handling waste in the city. Waste generation has risen astronomically in the city, but its management has remained static or deteriorated in recent times Experts, especially, urban planners have long maintained that proper waste management is key in creating a sustainable and liveable city. In Rivers State generally, this remains a major challenge that is yet to get the deserved attention. According to one expert, poorly managed waste serves as a breeding ground for disease vectors, contributes to global climate change through methane generation, and can even promote urban violence. Domestic waste is what is confronting residents of Port Harcourt. This waste, including plant and animal waste such as vegetables, fruit peel, bone and meat waste emanate mainly from marketplaces. For instance, every evening, at the Mile 1 and Mile 3 markets, heaps of refuse are dumped at the designated refuse points for easy collection. These are high priority areas because once unattended to the refuse heaps pile up and become an eyesore.
Problem of not bagging
But one of the problems with this arrangement is that the refuse is not bagged, and some deliberately dump them outside the designated area, thereby expanding the space allocated for refuse. To fully understand the refuse crisis in the state, one has to take a train ride from Port Harcourt to Obigbo in Oyigbo Local Government Area. It is along this route, that one sees how residents living nearby the fence barriers of the Nigerian Railway Corporation (NRC) live side by side with waste.
The areas mostly affected
From the Woji area to Elelenwa up to Obigbo, waste along the train route is never evacuated from January to December. In fact, some residents live in a manner that makes it appear that they have never heard of the word environmental sanitation with the way they live. Then in the capital proper, in residential or business corners where people are supposed to walk quietly without being assaulted by refuse heaps and the atten dant stench, they see one.
Garden City stigma
But the Garden City, as Port Harcourt is fondly called by its residents and those who knew the city in its glory days of the wellplanned landscape of lush green plants and neatness, often complain that the has greatly deteriorated. One resident, a septuagenarian, who was born and bred in the city, feels that “Port Harcourt is undergoing a silent transition to what a modern city should not be.” For residents that are still struggling to come to terms with the soot menace and its health implications, the mismanagement of waste is one problem that should be addressed head-on. A landlord in a well planned residential area along Odili Road, complains that for more than a month now, some residents living in nearby buildings have been trying to turn a little space near his compound into a dumpster. He feels that other landlords are yet to see the implications of allowing the space to be covered with refuse. “Local waste collectors usually come a bit late to pick refuse from houses. But that is not enough to turn the whole place into a dumpster. In fact, the flooding experienced in the city last year that destroyed properties worth millions of naira was partly caused by residents who floor drainage channels with refuse, including those neatly tied in polythene bags. There are residents who bag their waste but end up disposing of them in drains during rainfall or fling them from moving vehicles on their way to work. But once refuse block the drainage channels, and it rains heavily consistently, the homes of residents along the route of those drainage channels are flooded.
As the rainy season begins to gather momentum, the neglect of the environment or the harmful ways that some residents handle refuse will gradually begin to wreak havoc in the city, especially during peak periods of the rainy season. With rapid population growth and urbanisation, Port Harcourt’s yearly waste generation has risen by at least 30 per cent in the last 10 years, says one expert. The bigger problem lies in the management of waste that allows heaps of waste even at road medians to stay longer than necessary before being evaluated by waste contractors. Then, as more residents arrive in the city from the rural areas to work and earn a living, experts say that a major waste crisis that could impact the health of residents in a manner never experienced before is on the way if the state government fails to come up with a comprehensive waste management programme. From the high brow residential areas to the run down ones mostly occupied by very low-income earners, poor waste management has forced some residents to live near heaps of waste. The problem begins with how some residents dispose of waste in unregulated dumps or openly burned at night when very few people notice what is going on.
For decades, most residents have refused to bag their waste and make it easier for staff of contractors handling waste for the Rivers Waste Management Authority (RIWAMA) to easily pick them up. In most markets, where the leadership often see hygiene and cleanliness as a sacrifice that must be carried out every Thursday morning, before the traders start their business, waste handling and disposal rarely feature in their agenda.
Towards the end of last month, Rivers State Government terminated the contract with all private waste contractors due to their inability to fulfil the contractual obligation to ensure a cleaner and healthier environment for Rivers’ citizens. It also directed the chairmen of Port Harcourt City and Obio-Akpor Local Government Areas to immediately take charge of the evacuation of waste in their respective jurisdictions, pending the announcement of new waste contractors. According to the state government, the action was in line with its commitment to ensuring a more hygienic environment. But that move has yielded very little result considering that many residents in Port Harcourt have appealed to Governor Nyesom Wike to intervene in the waste management crisis rocking the city.
The residents described as unacceptable the mounting refuse littering different parts of the state capital and defacing the beauty of the garden city. It was observed that residents earlier raised the alarm that the contractors were no longer performing optimally before their contracts were terminated. Recall that the government in a statement signed by the Governor’s Special Assistant, Media, Kelvin Ebiri, terminated their contract on April 29, 2022. The statement said: “The decision to terminate their contract with the Rivers State Management Agency (RIWAMA) stems from their inability to fulfil the contractual obligation to ensure a cleaner and healthier environment for Rivers’ citizens.
“In the interim, the Rivers State Government has directed the Chairmen of Port Harcourt City and Obio-Akpor Local Government Areas to immediately take charge of the evacuation of waste in their respective jurisdiction, pending the announcement of new waste contractors by Monday.” But since then different parts of the city have suddenly turned into dumpsters. Those that are tempted to conclude that the state government is folding its arms and doing nothing about waste should know that the state government spends heavily on waste management. Govt’s high spending rate In May 2018, Wike disclosed that the state government spends a whopping N500 million monthly on the management of waste and sanitation in the state.
The governor, who made the revelation during a media interaction as part of activities marking his third anniversary in office lamented that despite the huge spending the sanitation level of sanitation in the state was still below an acceptable level. He described environmental sanitation as one area his government needed serious improvements noting “one area we have not succeeded in the area of refuse disposal.”
“It is an area that is bothering us, I must tell you. But it is an area that must be tackled… It is like it is inherent in us to a litre.” For now, some residents of the city have resolved to live dangerously and put their lives and that of others at great risk.