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Olushosun Dumpsite: Return of the eye sore

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By Jarikre Johnson

From the air, the 100-acre Olushosun dumpsite in Ojota, Lagos looks innocent . From the ground, however, the site is a malodorous, contaminated world of its own with towering hills of waste. This landfill is fourth largest in the world whilst retaining notoriety as Africa’s largest landfill.

A girl carrying mangoes on her head descends to a village on the Olusosun landfill site in Nigeria. The Olusosun dump is Africa’s largest, comprising 100 acres of garbage and collecting 2,400 metric tonnes of rubbish every day from Lagos, one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. Lagos’s population has tripled in the past 15 years and the infrastructure can’t cope. Roughly 1,000 homes have been built on Olusosun – the residents collect scrap from the dump and sell it. /Photograph: Jacob Silberberg/Panos

Garbage received at the landfill is estimated at 10,000 tons per day. A substantial portion of this is electronic waste from container ships. Toxic fumes are released from the site and chemicals are absorbed into the ground. Around a thousand homes exist near the site. Residents here eke out a living by scavenging scrap from the dump and sorting, burning and recycling what they can. At the time it was built in the 1950s, the location of the landfill was on the outskirt of Lagos and was originally intended for wastes from individual and corporate sources.

Since the exponential urban development that has characterized Lagos, residential, commercial and industrial buildings has since sprang up around landfill.

With this development comes a menace of environmental pollution that is bound to haunt the Lagos metropolis. According to research , health is at risk for those who live within five kilometres of a landfill site. Respiratory symptoms has been detected among residents living close to waste sites. These were linked to inhalation exposure to endotoxin, microorganisms, and aerosols from waste collection and land filling. Other hazards that comes with living close to sites include Fire and explosion, Inhalation of toxic gases, Injury to children playing on or around the dump site, Disease carried by mosquitoes, flies and rodents and damage to plant and wildlife habitats.

Findings have also shown that water borne diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, fatigue and cholera are amongst the ailments mostly suffered by inhabitants within the vicinity of the dumpsite. Some years ago, the groundwater quality around the dumpsite was investigated by collecting nineteen representative water samples from sixteen wells and three boreholes, and a leachate sample from the landfill. The samples were examined in the laboratory for physical, chemical and bacteriological analyses using standard laboratory procedures.

The obtained values of concentration of key parameters in all sampled wells were plotted against distances from the Olusosun dumpsite, in scatter diagrams. Unexpectedly, the concentration did not follow any attenuation pattern, with increasing distance up to the farthest sampled well. It is implied from the outcome of the exercise that the dumpsite is the source of pollution of groundwater in the area.

Meaning that solution to the groundwater pollution in the area is thus complex, and one that requires a more drastic and holistic approach. Apart from the health hazards of the dumpsite, Olushosun is known as an enclave of illegal activities for hoodlums, social miscreants and scrap scavengers .

Deteriorating soil quality and decrease in vegetation abundance are part of grave consequences of the open waste dumping which have resulted in growing public concern. The growing concern led the Lagos State Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode to shut down the dumpsite in March of this year, as the location of the facility was no longer healthy both for trading and residents living in the neighbourhood. Just before the governor’s intervention, there had been a sudden fire outbreak caused by a flare in the dumpsite. As is typical of dumpsites, there has been frequent occurrence of flare in the site. Landfill fire in itself isn’t novelty as hundreds of such occur each year on dumpsites around the world.

Such outbreaks ranges from minor surface fire to massive blazes that releases harmful emit. During such occurrence, harmful emissions such formaldehyde, hydrogen cyanide, hydrogen sulfide, nitrogen oxides, among others are released and are bound to cause health complications in those living in the immediate environment. This is obviously a major reason why the Lagos State government ordered the residents of Olushosun to relocate. In a statement, the governor noted that “the closure of the site became necessary owing to the need to forestall future occurrences and protect the health of residents”.

Upon the closure of the dumpsite, the state government directed waste collection operators to make use of the landfill sites at Owu Elepe in Ikorodu and that of Epe. The closure of the landfill led to the birth of the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI) whose mission is on “improving the environment to make it cleaner, safer and healthier for all Lagosian through a harmonised and holistic approach”.

To achieve its purpose means an innovative response to the issues of waste management in the state. The CLI pooled together several agencies across the value chain to “deliver a safe and sustainable environment for residents”.

Under the CLI arrangement, community sweeping was handed to the Ministry of Environment, whilst street sweeping were managed by three private companiesI – Avatar, Wastecare and Corporate Solutions. The Waste Collection Operators, mostly known as PSPs were directed to be in charge of residential and general waste collection. Visonscape Sanitation Solutions got the mandate to implement waste management infrastructure development across the state. Visionscape’s remit also included public waste collection to cover any service lapses that may occur.

The CLI’s division of labour was believed to have been put in place to ensure that all “aspects of the integrated waste management plan in the state received optimum attention”. Alas! It didn’t turn out that way. No sooner had the CLI project commenced when its officials alleged sabotage of its effort. A senior official of the CLI said “it was unfortunate that those who felt the new arrangement would affect them adversely were working hard to sabotage it by all means, including deliberate dumping of large waste in public places”.

That was the major challenge. Reinforcement of heaps of refuse that had been cleared by CLI officials on various spot. An official disclosed in an interview that the “ the permutation of those behind the sabotage was that if they kept dumping tonnes of refuse in public places, they would achieve the twin objective of distracting CLI officials from paying adequate attention to other places while projecting the initiative, which is targeted at a comprehensive turn around of Lagos to become one of the cleanest cities in the world, as a failure”.

In a social media video, John Olawale, a Visionscape senior official alleged “that heaps of refuse sometimes appear overnight in places already cleared by environmental officials, saying that the deliberate sabotage of the project called for concern”. In another video, a man wearing LAWMA uniform was seen fleeing from arrest after illegally dumping waste from a spot that had just been cleared . A story has it that the PSPs who are in charge of commercial waste never willed to welcome any new entrant and so down tooled even before the CLI commenced. Prior to the creation of the CLI, the PSPs were notorious for their lacklustre performance.

Upon the launch of the CLI, a group known as The Concerned Stakeholders of Association of Waste Managers of Nigeria, resolved to work with the state government . The stakeholders comprising of 48 Private Sector Participant (PSP) operators in waste management, stated that their resolve to work with the State Government was to ensure the success of the Cleaner Lagos Initiative (CLI). The stakeholders added that the decision“was borne out of the genuine desire to protect the environment and prevent outbreak of any epidemic in the State considering the resurgence of refuse in public places”.

The kind gesture was warmly received by the Government. In a twist of turn, an aggrieved group within the AWMN, distanced itself from the agreement to collaborate with the State Government to rid the state of filth adorning major streets and highways, describing the resolution as “misleading and untrue”. Responding, the concerned stakeholders, in a statement signed on their behalf by Kasumu Afis Olasehinde of Gafista Concepts Limited, said the statement by the aggrieved stakeholders was not only in bad taste but had shown them to care less about the interest of Lagosians”. With this development, it can be easy to understand the political undercurrent behind the alleged sabotage of the Cleaner Lagos Initiative. The rancour within AWMN continued unabated, with the heaps and heaps of refuse showing up in various parts of the state. Perhaps an evidence of the stance of the aggrieved group not to work with the Government.

The situation probably led the State Government to create a new environmental law which terminated its previous partnership with the private waste collectors, ( who hithertho had no contract with the state Government) and empowered Visionscape Group and its Nigerian subsidiary, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, to take their position. With Visionscape’s emergence as sole concessionaire for residential waste collection, the PSP weren’t left out in the cold as they were promptly reassigned to collect “commercial waste from schools, churches, industries, hospitals and other businesses”. In the aftermath, Visionscape was thrust in the middle of a political crossfire. With the foregoing, it is difficult to point out where Visionscape got it wrong to make it suffer the kind of political backlash that it is currently struggling to weather. The recent fallout of the political tussle is the reinstatement of the suspended PSPs who have been directed by Lagos State House of Assembly to commence work. The directive also include the reopening of the Olushosun dumpsite.

The problems of waste generation and management in most cities especially in developing countries have become one of the intractable environmental problems. We cannot afford to let political anglings and permutations becloud sense of judgement where health is concerned. The state government need to be further alerted to the the problems of open dumps as these sites are linked to very high levels of risks and potential harm. Simultaneous inhaling of fumes from burning plastics, contamination of aquifers, and release of substantial quantities of greenhouse gases takes place.

Yet, cconsiderable urban populations live close to them. The permanent closure of the Olushosun dumpsites and the development of sound waste management systems must be considered a global challenge and not a local one.

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