From the giant and wealthy nations like U.S.A, China, Germany, France and United Kingdom to thriving continents like Africa, it took the invisible but deleterious Covid-19 to prove the interconnectedness between public health, global economy, travels, social life, finances, education, livelihoods or our mental wellbeing. The unfortunate reality is; the deadly virus like any other disease is not a respecter of social status.
Another lethal epidemic waiting to bring our great nation Nigeria to her knees, are viruses associated with water pollution and poor sanitation. The indiscriminate disposal of industrial and faecal wastes into our waterbodies has fast turned into a norm. As a society, we are indifferent about the adverse impacts discharging untreated wastewater into this precious resource have on our daily lives.
Not admitting these failings – and not doing all that we can to prevent this potentially looming epidemic and the associated threats it poses to life and livelihood by remaining in our bubbles– would be not just irresponsible, but criminal.
We are aware epidemic such as smallpox killed 300 to 500 million people. The 1918-19 Spanish flu killed 50 to 100 million and Ebola claimed 11,000 lives. Dysentery, cholera and most recently Gastroenteritis in some cities, have claimed the lives of many. All these diseases are linked to drinking water contaminated by chemical and bacterial pollution.
According to a report on “African Water Cities Projects” developed by NLÉ, 35 million cubic metres per day of wastewater is generated in Africa, with one of its city generating 1.5 million cubic metres per day, Less than 2% of the population is served with off-site sewage treatment plants. The faecal contamination of the nation’s water system and the environment, the lack of willingness to invest in wastewater treatment systems and the inadequate management of wastewater is an important health concern.
Wastewater management is also thwarted by cheap treatment options done by self-acclaimed engineers who lack the technical know-how and the expertise, but are often engaged by regulated facilities due to the capital cost of constructing a proper wastewater treatment systems. The effluent from these poorly designed plants in all cases, does not meet the stipulated quality as required by regulatory bodies. Consequently, without effective implementation or enforcement, these standards have become meagre theoretical regulatory instruments.
Additionally, the septic tanks and soakaway systems in most newly developed estates often contaminate and pollute the shallow groundwater—a vital source of water to the residents. However; provision was made in Abuja Master Plan for the city’s central sewerage system.
Essential Actions to take for the aversion of a looming epidemic, includes but not limited to the following:
- Public Awareness Programs, Education And Prevention
- Enabling Environment For Improved Decentralized Wastewater Management
- Stringent Environmental Regulation, Monitoring and Enforcement policies.
- Rehabilitation of the State-owned Wastewater Treatment Plants and Septage Disposal points and Investment in New Ones
This is no excuse for unpreparedness. If we are to save ourselves and our children we must act decisively. The threat is real. The pathway is known. The time for action is now. (Dr Jonathan D Quick, of the Harvard Medical School, -The End of Epidemics)