Aba, Onitsha bogged by environmental degradation
It noted that the city’s metal industries, private hospitals, workshops and residents were heavy polluters, emitting chemical, hospital and household waste and sewage.
An environmentalist, Chike Okoronkwo, agreed that Onitsha could be experiencing the problem “because most industries there run on generating plants, which generate a great deal of carbon monoxide. There is also so much congestion in the city, with even household waste littering everywhere. The worst is the fact that residents have no idea of how to dispose and manage the refuse they generate.”
Other factors that give rise to the worsening atmospheric condition in the city, he said, include waste burning, wooden stoves, construction sites, precursor chemicals such as sulfates, nitrates and carbon containing reactive organic gas emissions, among others.
A tour of Onitsha, and its environs indicates that some changes in the area of waste disposal and management are beginning to occur, especially where heaps of refuse dumps were regular features. Quite a number of them have so far disappeared.
However, not much has changed at Okpoko, a suburb of Onitsha where residents appear to be wading their way through filth in the area inundated with shanties.
Drainages in this area have been blocked by plastic materials, including PET bottles and cellophane bags among others. Even with the rains going on break, water logged streets and stagnant drainages are common sight in Okpoko.
Like in Onitsha, vast areas of Okpoko lack refuse collection facilities, and this development gives rise to the emergence of illegal dump sites, along places like Owerri Road, where much of the waste generated are disposed.
In the area, which is heavily congested with human and vehicular traffic, buildings are erected in unplanned fashion, and this is one factor that facilitates flooding anytime there is a downpour.
Upper Iweka to the Zik’s Roundabout, and parts of the Government Reserved Areas (GRA) are parts of Onitsha that have improved over time. Here, there are posh houses, the streets are paved, and the area is devoid of unusually high traffic, which create immense nuisance in some residential areas.
When contacted, the state Commissioner for Information and Communications Strategy, Tony Nnacheta, and his counterpart in the Environment, Beautification and Ecology Ministry, Dr Ifeanyi Ejikeme, refused to comment on the pollution status of the state, as well as, government’s effort to make the place shed its filthy toga.
A welder in Awada area of Onitsha, John Okechukwu, is of the opinion that putting Onitsha in pristine condition is bound to be a difficult task because residents care less about their environment.
He said: “This is what Onitsha is known for. It is not possible to change the environmental situation of the place because what the people here value so much is money. They are ready to stay anywhere to make money, as long as they have a space to operate from. The government, I believe has done something at Upper Iweka, which led to the removal of miscreants that occupied there. The government has also tried to ease the traffic here with several marshals on the major roads, but whether Onitsha will continue to experience environmental problems, I will say yes, because the master plan of the city has been distorted.
“We have regulations here including that which says that people will be prosecuted if they litter the surrounding with dirt, but you will know how effective that regulation is when there is rain.”
In Aba, the plethora of industries, motor parks, chaotic traffic situations, generator fumes, join forces to challenge the environmental condition of the place. Like in most parts of Onitsha, gutters in Aba are clogged with different shades of domestic and industrial wastes. The inability of residents to bag household wastes is another factor that helps in worsening the environmental conditions in the city.
Around and inside the popular Ariaria Market, where roads have been rendered impassable by erosion, the noise, fumes and sound from different types of engines, including generating plants, make the area very uncomfortable to operate from, and the air choky. That notwithstanding, thousands of artisans, who ply various types of trade, are still scampering for spaces to do their businesses in the very congested environment.
A resident, who simply gave his name as Victor, is of the view that Aba has witnessed serious improvement in the area of sanitation since the Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s administration came on board.
“The reason for this is very simple. Before Ikpeazu became governor, he was the Deputy Chairman of Abia State Environmental Protection Agency (ASEPA). He knows that Aba cannot continue to thrive in dirt and disorderliness. And since it is the commercial nerve centre of the state, he has decided to place premium on what goes on in the city,” he stated.
“There was a time you could not access this city anyhow, and you would prefer to walk to your destination instead of using your private car or even commercial vehicles because the roads were so bad and littered with every manner of dirt. Even though the agency responsible for addressing the issue of clearing refuse from the city centre is making efforts to rid the place of the mountain of refuse, I think that the government can do more in this regard.
“A lot of attention should be paid to the environment because we can’t continue thriving in a filthy environment like this. Look at the issue of roads for instance; some major roads here need improvement if we want a clean environment. Faulks Road by Osusu Road that leads to Ariaria market is near impassable. Brass Junction, Osisioma is always experiencing heavy traffic, gutters are still clogged and very dirty. With this kind of scenario, it is important for the government to adopt an approach that can imbue a sense of harmony in the city,” he noted
On WHO’s classification of Aba as one of the most polluted cities in the world, Victor regretted that things were allowed to get that bad, and called on the state government to work towards ensuring a safe environment, stressing that, “it is when you have a have a good environment that you can effectively work for the growth of the economy.”
Curiously, the state government has vehemently rejected the classification of Aba as one of the most polluted cities in the world, insisting that nothing had happened in Aba, or any part of the state to constitute a danger to the environment and human health.
According to the state Commissioner for Environment, Gab Igboko, “First of all, I’m neither aware of any WHO verdict in that respect, nor aware of any study, or exercise in Abia and Aba in particular by the WHO.
“Moreover, I’m somewhat familiar with the mandate and mode of operations of the WHO and most sister UN bodies, having done my master’s thesis in international law and U.N International Securities. So, I’m usually very cautious to proffer ideas and solutions to issues of such nature, especially those that I really cannot pin point.
Igboko said: “Be that as it may, I will not accept such sweeping allegation because I’m not sure of any barometer employed in arriving at such suspect determination, as I know of so many industrialised cities in the world, with so much smog and pollution of varying disturbing degrees than Aba, which has virtually little or no operating industries, and similar production activities to come near in comparison with these cities.”
He continued: The carbon monoxide (CO) from all the generator sets in Abia State (let alone Aba), cannot compare to the pollution and health hazard posed by the emission of industrial gases in just Elizabeth, New Jersey in the United States, or is all the emission and pollution in the whole of South East and South South Nigeria near what we have in Tokyo, Japan, alone.”
A university don, Dr Orji O. Ugwu, told The Guardian that particulate matter (PM) above 10 micrometers can cause health problems to humans, including damaging their cardiovascular system.
“Inhaling PM by humans can lead to asthma, lung cancer, cardiovascular and respiratory diseases, premature delivery in women, birth defects, as well as, premature deaths. It also has some negative effects on vegetation including impairing photosynthesis functions among others,” he said.He advised government’s at all levels to spare no efforts towards making the environment safe for human habitation.