By: Manasseh Mbachii
Makurdi, the Benue state capital, is at risk of an epidemic outbreak due to poor waste management in the metropolis. This is in spite of the millions approved for environmental improvement by the Benue State government.
Through the Ministry of Environment and Water Resources, the state government in the 2021/2022 budget, approved 198.2million for the acquisition of land, waste containers, septic tanks, medical equipment, garbage trucks, payloader, and waste collection vehicles to remediate water pollution in the state capital.
Despite budget approval to the Benue State Environmental and Sanitation Authority (BENSESA) to curb the menace of poor waste management in the state capital, very little progress has been made as Makurdi residents continue to face a growing waste management crisis due to poor waste collection in the state capital.
Residents who spoke with this reporter shared a heartfelt story of painful diarrhea and persistent typhoid fever accompanied by bouts of severe stomach cramping and stooling caused by the regular consumption of contaminated water.
In Wurukum, Makurdi South, a sinister sickness gripped the family of Terfa Comfort, a food vendor, with unfamiliar illnesses, primarily marked by diarrhea and typhoid fever.
Mrs Terfa stated that open-dug wells in Wurukum are polluted, and reeked of the environment due to unapproved refuse dumpsites in an undeveloped commercial plot of land in the community.
She further lamented that the obnoxious odor from the refuse site had negatively impacted her health and food business.
“This refuse site has been a health hazard to my family. My children are the ones mostly affected by typhoid due to improper waste disposal. I also experience low patronage due to the odor that takes over the atmosphere from the waste site,”she said.
When this reporter visited the High Level Market in Makurdi, the center of the state capital, to assess the sanitation and hygiene of the people, It was observed that the community was littered with waste. Residents and shop owners adorned a section of JS Tarka Foundation with heaps of refuse.
Gift Odo, who sells kitchen utensils at the High Level Market, stressed that the odor emanating from the refuse in the axis had exposed her to consistent stomach disorder. She lamented that the situation has chased customers from patronizing her.
“You can see and smell things for yourself. From the odor, I have constant stomach cramping. Sometimes, customers would want to buy something but because of the odor, the person will just drive away. Nobody cares to come to pack the refuse, even though we paid taxes,” Ms Gift said.
In Akpehe, a 48-year-old mother of four children, Akaayar Judith, said her children have been suffering unexplainable illnesses every time they drink water collected from an open-dug swell.
“My children just started stooling, while the youngest was complaining of stomach pain. I bought medicine for them but nothing changed. When we went to the hospital, we were told that the water we were consuming was harmful. The doctor said waste contaminates groundwater as well as pollutes nearby open wells,” she said.
Investigations by this reporter however showed that residents are in the habits of indiscriminate dumping of refuse in available spaces especially markets, drainages and open space in residential areas due to nonavailability of waste containers.
Expert weigh in
A clinical epidemiologist and public health expert at the Benue State University Teaching Hospital, Terkaa Bitto, explained that decay from uncollected waste infiltrates water sources through the overflow of septic tanks and sewage. He warned that viruses, bacteria and fungi from such waste are cataractogenesis, which could affect unborn children through mothers with cognitive defects.
“When there is an overflow of septic tanks and sewages, the viruses could be easily washed into public open wells. Pathogens from the waste could be blown into the air and become airborne viruses and bacteria which humans can easily inhale. Some of these bacteria have short and long-term effects and can stay in the human system and cause neurological defects in children. The ramifications of improper waste disposals are huge,” he said.
Doctor Bitto, said that the best measures for proper waste management are to create waste segregation and recycling centers.
A professor of Analytical and Environmental Chemistry at the Joseph Sarwuan Tarka University, Makurdi, Professor Ishaq Eneji, warned that there could be an epidemic outbreak if there is no immediate remediation to checkmate further contamination of water, especially in River Benue.
“Most of the waste are hazardous chemicals and their possible health risk in the environment can cause neurological and kidney damage while persistent organic pollutants can cause reproductive and developmental problems, damage the immune system, interfere with hormones and cause cancer.”
State government’s reaction
The Benue state Ministry of Environment and Water Resources could not respond to questions on the multimillion naira waste management projects, after an official letter of enquiry was submitted to the ministry.
“Your letter is with us. When we look at it, if there is any reply we will get back to you” Mr. Ali Efu, permanent secretary, ministry of environment and water resources, said.
Several attempts to speak with the Benue State Environmental and Sanitation Authority (BENSESA) were not successful, as officials declined comments.
However, a staff member who pleaded anonymity told this reporter that the agency does not have the funds to effectively manage waste in the state capital.
“When Gov. Hyacinth Alia came here and ordered the agency to clean up the town, the secretary borrowed money to fuel vehicles,” the staff said.
This report was produced under the UDEME project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID). Edited by Kemi Busari.