It is no longer news that inhabitants of several communities across the country have been displaced by flood in recent times. The consequence of this being the separation of children from their parents and loved ones. This unhealthy and disturbing development has also resulted in destruction of properties worth several millions of Naira.
Experts have, however, blamed the problem on some environmental factors, dam management and lack of adequate awareness. The impact of climate change with its attendant flooding, drought, epidemics, has also be fingered as a cause.
In this interview with CHIOMA OBINNA, Associate Professor of Public Health with the College Medicine University of Lagos and a Consultant to the Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH) Idi-Araba, Dr. Adebayo Onojole speaks of the possible increase in the incidence of malaria and other health problems such as cholera out break , vermins such as rats, amongst others. Excerpts.
Problems associated with flooding
The issue of flood is multi-dimensional in the sense that there are a lot of things we do that cause flooding. We could have flood as a result of some of our activities. For example, our habit of dumping refuse in the drains which causes drainage blockage.
This would result in flooding and when this happens, it will cause physical problems in the sense that people cannot sleep well. Most of their goods or household items could be damaged. By and large, there are smaller problems but the biggest problems are the health problems that it may result into.
One of the health problems is that with increase in accumulation of water, you can have increase in the number of vectors growth. Things like mosquitoes, and we know that mosquitoes can transmit a lot of diseases but the most important in our environment is malaria. So we are going to have an increase in the incidence and the prevalence of malaria.
When you have an increase in the prevalence of malaria, it is going to have an economic effect on the environment or the population. First, the economic effect on the individual, the individual is unable to work, is unable to earn income.
Again, the individual has physical discomfort because when you have fever, headache or other signs of malaria it impact on the individual, the economic cost, because the individual has to take out of the household income in order to purchase drugs to treat himself. Lastly, it affects the immediate family because if the house hold income is reduced, the household income that can be diverted to purchase food will be reduced and, hence it can affect the nutritional status of the whole family.
Within the community it self, it has its own effect. Apart from the fact that the flooding could carry waste that are indiscriminately disposed all over the place, it can also contribute in creating vermins because vermins multiply. We also know that vermins like rats are harbinger of diseases like plague. If you go into history where you have plague in the whole world, flooding was one of the factors that led to that and it wiped away the whole society at that point in time.
So the issue of flooding is a multi-dimensional thing. But the flooding itself is also related to other things in the sense that we are talking about global warming. When you have global warming a lot of the activities of global warming is due to activities of man. Activity of man as a result of increase in production of carbon dioxide in the environment and when you have increase in carbon dioxide in the environment there is increase in temperature, when you have increase in temperature, the ice berg in the northern poles melts and once it melts it decreases the body source of water and therefore it could easily lead to flooding.
Recently, we heard what is happening in Indonesia because we had some of this volcanic eruption under the sea berg. A lot of ridges were wiped out and from the last count over 500 people were dead and they are still counting. So these are the effect of flooding.
But when we come back home looking at the issue of flooding in Ajegunle,in Ikorodu, Lagos for instance, which was caused by excess water load, it is because the body source of water is full and if they do not open the dams, they (dams) would collapse and if the dams collapse, it is going to lead to a much bigger damage than what has happened, so they had to release some of the water.
If you look at what has happened, there are some hectares of land that are not meant to be built on, these land are called waste lands. They are meant to contain waste water like this. But today most of the land that are supposed to be waste land to take care of these water sources are being built on and have now caused obstruction. That is why we will keep having this magnitude of flood as we are having now. Whether we like it or not, drains must be cleared. The areas that are not supposed to be built on should be left open.
All hand must be on deck
Therefore, we cannot fold our hands and assume every disaster to be due to the effect of climate change. All hands must be on deck to find a lasting solution to the problem.
So, what can we do? Individuals must manage their waste properly. People should not dispose inappropriately and government also has a social responsibility to ensure drains are properly emptied of debris and stilt. Government must allocate places where waste can be properly managed or disposed off. Government must be able to produce where we could have people who packed waste from the temporary site of refuse storage to the final disposal site.
Wherever there is cholera,is a sign of a break down in environmental sanitation. This is because cholera is a bacteria that is transmitted to man through either food or water. So, when we say either food or water, it means that food or water that is contaminated with sewage and the major reservoir of cholera is man. In these areas, we must encourage people to maintain simple personal hygiene.
Simple washing of hands after toilet use. We should encourage victims not to defecate indiscriminately. If an infected person defecates indiscriminately, the flood water can carry the organism from that point to somewhere else and contaminate the source of water. Those who would use water from surface sources, (that is water from shallow wells or rivers) are highly at risk of cholera in those areas.
Although there has not been any report of cholera in most flooded areas, to prevent it from happening, we must encourage people not to defecate indiscriminately in this source of water because when people see this source of water they see it as an opportunity to pass their faeces. They must ensure that the water they drink is boiled, this way the micro-organisms in the waters are killed. They must ensure that they wash their hands after esch toilet use.
Possible disease outbreak
There could be a lot of diseases that could break out in flood areas. These diseases are mostly vector-borne diseases. One of them is malaria. The flood will also encourage vermins like rats to breed.
Also, other diseases like leptospirosis and others. Rat plays an intermittent host for most of these diseases. There are so many of them that rat can be an intermediate host for. Such diseases cannot be diagnosed except within the hospital setting. In our environment immediately somebody has fever, we say the individual has malaria but it could be much more than malaria.