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Making telecoms masts safer around people

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The debate on whether radiations from telecommunication masts are dangerous to human health was recently rekindled by the National Environmental Standard, Regulatory and Enforcement Agency, NESREA, Director General, Dr Lawence Anukam. In a television interview, he had, while citing a World Health Organisation, WHO, report cautioned against unregulated siting of telecoms masts in residential areas and warned against undue human exposure to them.

Following the liberalisation of the telecoms sector and the establishment of the Nigerian Communications Commission, NCC, government had in 2001 auctioned GSM licenses. This ushered in new operators into the telecommunication sector such as MTN, Airtel, Glo and Etisalat, which now have their masts spread across the country.

Telecoms Mast

As the sector’s regulator, the NCC is empowered by the Nigerian Communications Commission Act No. 19, 2003, to specify and publish technical codes and specifications in respect of communications equipment and facilities in use in Nigeria. The Commission, in 2009, issued the Guidelines on Technical Specifications for the Installation of Telecommunications Masts and Towers.

This included the provision that the distance between the towers and all generators within a base station shall be five metres from any property, excluding the fence. In addition, all towers sited within residential areas must conform to the provisions stipulated in the Guidelines to mitigate the effect of heat, smoke and noise pollution arising from generating sets.

But the issue of concern goes beyond heat, smoke and noise pollution. It is rather that of radiations from telecoms masts and the attendant dire health implications. While the Telecommunications Operators of Nigeria, ALTON, have continued to argue that the electromagnetic energy emitted by their operating facilities are harmless, we are seriously perturbed over medical reports said to have linked illnesses to radiation emitted by telecommunication masts.

This is why the warning by NESREA should be taken seriously by all, especially the telecoms regulatory body, NCC. The Commission should immediately take steps to ascertain from relevant experts the full implications of having these masts close to residential areas, how to avert hazards associated with them and do the needful in ensuring the safety of the general public.

We urge NESREA and other agencies of government at Federal and state levels to be more proactive in asserting their authority in regulating the location of these technological masts and towers. In many cases, the telecom companies simply sign agreements with landlords and pay sizeable sums of money to acquire the right to use building tops and backyards to erect these masts without caring about the health of the people in the vicinity.

We look up to NESREA and NCC to move in and prevent or correct these ethical malpractices, keeping to internationally-standardised safe models of accommodating radiation-emitting technology within human-habited zones.

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