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INTERVIEW: Human activities around Usman dam posing grievous risk to Abuja residents — NGO

By Ben Atonko

Adiza Ujo is the Convener of Stewards of the Environment for Sustainable Change Initiative (SESCI).

In this press interview with NatureNews, Ujo raises alarm saying human activities close to Usuma dam, the main source of potable water for residents of Abuja such as emptying of waste into streams, opening defecating and connecting sewer pipes into the dam, planting of crops and the application of chemical fertilizers, open grazing of animals, washing of motor vehicles and clothes, disposal of medical and construction waste pose grievous risk to residents of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).

SESCI is a non-profit organization founded on the Sept. 12, 2015 in Abuja, Nigeria. The organisation has a long track record of advocacy in waste management. It is committed to building citizen’s capacity towards effective waste management, empowering communities with skills and knowledge of creating green jobs and wealth from waste, plugging the knowledge gap in waste management through research, and engaging government and policy makers with facts to make effective legislation that solve current waste management challenges.

SESCI is engaged in the creation of innovative waste bins with its signature Giganuta bins bottle shaped structure capable of holding 100kilos of PET/cans to encourage recycling at source which are deployed to different parts of the FCT. The NGO is passionate about the environment and humanity as its mantra goes: “Humanity can only thrive in a thriving environment.”

NatureNews: What has been your experience since you started the environment campaign? How are your efforts perceived by the public?

Ujo: In a few words bitter/sweet and worth every while.

On how our efforts are perceived by the public, I think from the positive feedbacks we get our projects; indeed have long term and far reaching impacts. The public sees that impacts are made and supports us on a continuous basis.

NaturNews: What are the main environmental concerns in Abuja?

Ujo: Government’s inability to provide a comprehensive integrated waste management system (which begins at sorting at source up until the final dumpsites); nonchalant, I don’t care — someone is paid to do it mentality of Nigerians (litter culture); illegal open dumpsites – dumping of waste on road sides, schools, football pitches any available open spaces, drainage channels etc; open burning, as this generates emission of methane and greenhouse gases resulting in global warming and health hazards.

NatureNews: Could you give us insight on the tree-planting exercise your organization recently did in Abuja?

Ujo: As we know, planting of trees controls erosion, slows runoff water and holds the soil in place. In April of 2020 SESCI/Stop Don’t Drop won a tree planting grant from the Abuja Global Shaper’s Climate Reality Project to implement a sustainable tree planting programme that employs the mitigation of erosion and promotes a cleaner and healthier environment.

Our initial plan was to plant our trees around the Usuma dam catchment area to kick start the creation of a riparian buffer zone to keep out the negative human activities of residents living close to the catchment area such as emptying their waste into the streams, opening defecating and connecting sewer pipes into the dam, planting of crops and the application of chemical fertilizers which end up in the dam, open grazing of animals at the dam, washing motor bikes cars and items of clothing, including the disposal of medical and construction waste into the streams that empty into the dam) all of which pose serious health risks to all residents of the FCT whose water source is from the FCT water Board as Usman dam is the major source of potable water in the FCT. However government bureaucracy hindered the process.

We did not allow that to deter us. We identified a school in Kubwa — Model Primary School/Junior Secondary School Kubwa III whose infrastructure was being destroyed by erosion. For example, erosion cut through the foundation of the only male and female toilet facility available to pupils, rendering the structure a serious a safety hazard and forcing pupils to openly defecate around the school premises and girls skipping school when they have their monthly menstrual period because of the absence of a toilet facility.

This was our motivation and the reason we decided to plant our trees there — 319 trees were planted in the primary and junior secondary schools.

Another 131 trees were planted at LEA Jikoyi, Dagbana bringing it to a total of 450 trees planted.

We are grateful to our Guest of Honour, the Honourable, Honorable Justice Monica Dongban Mensem, President of the Court of Appeal Nigeria and all our partners that made the event a huge success.

NatureNews: As a waste management organization, what is your assessment of the general attitude of Nigerians towards waste management in the face of Covid-19?

Ujo: Waste management in Nigeria is an arduous task. It is mainly but not only the responsibility of the government but every single Nigerian. Before Covid-19, the government was struggling with management of the tremendous amount of waste generated everyday by citizens; and by management I mean the entire chain from the point of generation to the point of disposal. With Covid-19 the struggle continues.

At the onset of Covid-19, we witnessed an increase in the use and disposal of single use facemask and latex hand gloves littered all over the city. In some rural and urban poor communities in the FCT, it is business as usual as they believe Covid-19 is “rich man’s disease” and since they haven’t witnessed any corona deaths within their communities, life continues and in their eyes, coronavirus doesn’t exists so they continue with their littering habits and illegal dumping of refuse.

Advocacy and sensitization by the government and CSOs have yielded some level of attitudinal change among some residents in the FCT in the handling and disposal of waste as their waste as coronavirus can live on contaminated surfaces for as long as hours or days.

Most Nigerians are aware of the dangers of improper disposal of waste especially covid-19 waste, but there is a need for government to provide the enabling infrastructure and then enforce policies on waste disposal and penalties given to defaulters.

NatureNews: With covid-19, what do you think might happen as used bottles are collected for packaging of local beverages like kunuzobo and herbal concoctions?

Research indicates that covid-19 was detectable up to 4 hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard and up to 2 to 3 days on plastic and stainless steel. Therefore, improper recycling and disinfection of these plastic bottles used for packaging drinks and local beverages sold across the country could be another potential source of viral disease.

The used bottles may be contaminated with the virus and such reuse of contaminated plastic bottles without properly disinfecting them would certainly increase the spread of the viral disease.

NatureNews: What are your pending programmes?Ujo: The continuation of our campaign to protect our major source of potable water in the FCT Usman dam; setting up a Riparian buffer zone to protect the Usman dam catchment area; continually engage with government and other stakeholders with facts to address new and existing environmental challenges within the FCT; grassroots and rural poor community advocacy projects — opening up different waste for chop and waste resource outlets; build up our Material Recovery Site to make it not just a Material Recovery Facility, but an environmental education/learning and green jobs and skills acquisition hub for the transformation of waste into valuable resources and empowerment of Nigerians.    

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