The world now produces more than a billion tons of garbage a year, which it incinerates and buries and exports and recycles. In New York, barges transport as much as 3,600 tons of waste down the Hudson River every day. In the Netherlands, which has a sophisticated recycling system, residents throw away the equivalent of more than 400,000 loaves of bread per day. In Jakarta, residents refer to the Indonesian city’s growing dump simply as “the Mountain.”

The world’s garbage crisis is predicted to grow exponentially in the coming decades as people become richer and increasingly move to urban areas.

By 2025, according to a World Bank study, the waste produced by cities around the globe will be enough to fill a line of rubbish trucks 3,100 miles long every day.

Africa, the fastest-urbanizing continent, is full of cities struggling to balance their extraordinary growth with sustainable waste management. Every year, improper garbage disposal contributes to devastating epidemics of mosquito-borne malaria, yellow fever and other potentially fatal diseases.

In Nigeria, outbreaks of Lassa fever, a sometimes-deadly virus, spread by rodent urine or faeces, has been linked to poor sanitation in urban centres.

Most towns and cities in Nigeria developed organically. They were not the result of deliberate planning. They emerged as towns and cities as a result of historically, economic or political reasons. There are towns that grew as a result of being railway terminus. These towns were not planned. It was after their growth have become imminent that the government of the day began to set up structures to see how they can be better organised. That is why in most states in the country Urban and Regional Planning Laws are hardly enforced except at the state capitals and few other towns.

With the exception of the federal capital territory Abuja, which is the result of deliberate planning, most cities, including Lagos, were not planned at the outset. However despite their organic origins, there have been over the years the deliberate efforts to plan new development areas within the towns, while the old towns are upgraded through urban renewal.

Over the years one aspect of urban planning that has been neglected or, at best, managed haphazardly is the management of waste. As a result of this negligence, Nigerian towns and cities from Lagos to Ibadan, Aba to Calabar, Onitsha to Kano, Kaduna to Owerri, the streets and walkways have been overtaken by refuse. The motorists, pedestrians and refuse are indeed competing for space on the roads.

Abuja, the federal capital territory, has a semblance of coordination in waste management. But even Abuja is facing a lot of challenges. Abuja Environmental Protection Board (AEPB) is the agency saddled with the responsibility of waste collection and disposal, landfill development and monitoring of cleaning contractors. Its aim is to achieve sustainable development in the territory and secure the quality of environment adequate for the health and well being of the residents of the territory. It also minimises the impact of physical development on the ecosystems of the territory.

Even though AEPB provides waste bins for residents, the capacity of the contractors handling the evacuation of these waste bins when they are filled had been called to question. Most times the waste bins are filled and spilling on the streets for days before they are evacuated.

There is also poor understanding of wastes and their various dimensions.

There are different types of wastes. These include liquid, solid and gaseous wastes. Under these three key types of waste you have food waste, plastic waste, medical waste, etc. In most developed countries and indeed for best practice in waste management, waste generated by households, offices, industries, etc, are supposed to be segregated at the point of generation. Sadly this is not done. Without segregation of wastes at the points of generation it becomes difficult sorting them out by those who are in the business of recycling wastes.

The state governments should have waste management plan. As the population of Nigeria is growing, so is the population of urban centres. Urban centres are centres of administration, knowledge, innovations, jobs, industrialisation, and opportunities and as a result will continue to attract populations that strain and overstretch urban infrastructure. As the population grows so does the wastes it generates.

The waste management questions that the state officials with the mandate of ensuring environmental sustainability in the towns and cities should ask are; how much wastes are the residents generating in a day? Where are the points that generate the most wastes? How do residents handle their wastes? Is waste management a social responsibility carried out by government for free or can waste management be treated as a business, where people are made to pay for the waste they generate? Is waste management going to be private sector driven or better be left for government to handle? How many landfills do you need in a city or town?

Nigeria is experiencing the highest rate of urbanisation in Africa and among the fastest growing urbanising societies in the world, yet many towns do not have standardised landfills where wastes that cannot be recycled are finally buried, safely from where they can harm the health of the society.

The challenge facing most cities in Nigeria is how to efficiently collect refuse generated by residents and systematically dispose them at the dumpsites or landfills. While this is not rocket science, many cities have failed in this simple municipal assignment. Perhaps the solution may be in leaving this core duty of government which affects the health and wellbeing of the society to the private sector.

Aluta Continua