Besides providing a source of living for the scavengers, the Ojota landfill site is believed to pose health risks to the residents, moreso to the scavengers in the Ojota/Oregun areas of Lagos. LARA ADEJORO writes.
The stench from Olusosun landfill would upset anyone driving from Seven-Up to Motorways bus-stop and on to the vast landmass sprawling from the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway entry into Ojota bus stop and nearby Oregun. The offensive odour hangs stubbornly in the air and pervades the surrounding residential and business/industrial environment of Ojota.
All manner of wastes, ranging from solid to liquid and chemicals of all sorts being dumped on this site, call the health programmes of the Lagos State Government to question.
A peep into the gate of the site shows a pitched sign post that ‘welcomes’ one to the landfill.
The wastes on the mountainous dumpsite include garbage, trash, rags, bottles, pets, irons, toxic chemicals, heavy metals, lead, dead batteries, medical wastes and animal carcasses. You can also find human excrement feasted upon by rodents, flies, roaches, etc. Yet, nearby, you find thousands of houses, businesses, both small and industrial, combining to generate more wastes that also end up in Olusosun.
The site is one among several of such landfills designated by the Lagos State government to curb years of indiscriminate dumping of wastes in areas not officially marked for such.
The accumulation of garbage and recyclables provide a means of livelihood for some 3,000 people, including the young and the old, male and female, as well as university graduates from different ethnic nationalities who all come to give a meaning to their lives, even with the stench from the dumpsite and, bad as it is, it helps them get a step closer to realising their dreams.
A World Bank report in 2012 indicated that some three billion people worldwide generate 1.2kg of wastes per day, or 1.3 billion metric tons per year. The Olusosun landfill takes in almost 10,000 tons of solid waste daily and a considerable amount of electronic wastes (e-wastes) from the 500 container ships that arrive each month in Lagos.
According to Basel Action Network (BAN), the e-waste is equal in volume to 400,000 computer monitors or 175,000 large TV sets. As much as 75 per cent of some shipments into Nigeria are classified as e-waste.
Living on the dump
Daily Timesgathered that the take-home pay of some of these scavengers equal to, or surpass the salaries of some graduates. However, this does not preclude the fact that the life of a scavenger is not one to opt for.
Investigations show that the scavengers benefitting from the massive wastes at the site have formed an association called Scavengers Association of Nigeria (SAN) and each of them pay N70 daily to get a ticket from the association. The executive officers of the association settle matters ranging from theft to physical confrontations.
For most of them, the dumpsite is not only a source of living, it is a city within the mega city of Lagos and it is their home. Most of them have makeshift habitations made majorly of plywood and corrugated metal and cardboard boxes, and the shackled homes are furnished with useful materials found on the site.
The shacks have no electricity or water, so they patronize water vendors or procure sachet water every day.
Our investigations revealed that a scavenger who stays on the site uses at least a bag of sachet water daily.
The scavengers are not also left out of the social activities happening around them as they organise parties at weekends, engage in sporting activities in the evenings and weekends, even hold annual carnivals at the end of the year, as one scavenger confirmed to our correspondent.
“We live the way other people live,” Akindele Olamuyiwa said.
Once the garbage trucks come in through the open entry way to the dump site, tips off the generated waste, the scavengers run to grab anything they can to resell, and many of them take some of the valuables to their families.
Like most of the scavengers, AbdulrasakAbubakar who hails from Sokoto State has made a squatter for himself on the site.
Speaking in pidgin, Abubakar, who has been on the site for 25 years, said: “I follow them from Gbagada. I do buy and sell. I normally sell when money no plenty for my hand. I go just go the site myself, pick aluminum, copper, brass, used computer sets and sometimes I sell too. Most of my customers come from Ghana.”
When asked about how much he scraps from the site daily, he smiled and said: “You know say everyday no be Christmas. Sometimes, I make N5,000, N10,000 or more. It depends on the day, business here is luck.”
With the money he makes, Abubakar caters for his family, sends money to his extended family members in Sokoto and takes care of himself.
Scavengers not recognized by government
The Managing Director of the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA), Dr Ola Oresanya, told Daily Times in an interview that the scavengers are not recognised officially, but that the agency will work out an alternative place for them when the site is eventually turned into a golf course.
Speaking on the contribution of the site to national economy, he said the site’s contribution is more of the environment than the economy, because the activities there are majorly of environmental.
The Eric Obuh experience
This Nigerian in his early 30s, who shot a documentary tagged This is Lagos for BBC, shared his experience withDaily Times.
Better known as ‘Vocal Slender’, Eric worked at the Ojota dumpsite years ago to pursue his musical career. “You make a decision as a man and you must accept that choice. I made the decision to work on the dumpsite and I never regretted it.”
A celebrated role model to many Ajegunle youths, Eric said he was going to the site from Ajegunle until he got himself a squatter, so he only went home once in a while.
“Though they called us scavengers then, yet we worked there 24 hours more than anyone to fill a gap in the society.
“For instance, when people buy a newspaper, they read one or two paragraphs and throw it away, but we find those papers useful because companies come to buy it and use them to produce slippers or other things. Also, when we find pets, people come to buy them; they in turn export it and bring it back as weav-on. We find aluminium, they melt it and use it to make pots or can for drinks.
“People from all over West Africa come there – scavengers, buyers and sellers. A place where you have over 3000 people scavenging, it means people buy those goods. Everyday more than 50 tonnes of iron leave the dump site, but people don’t appreciate us. People in the society celebrate mediocrity more than excellence and hard work; they like people who are flashy,” he observed.
Talents on the dump site
Proud of his past, Eric recalled: “People see us as scavengers, but there are talented people at the dumpsite. We had university students and graduates who came there after years of endless search for jobs. Some of them came back either as scavengers or buyers.
“On the site, we had footballers who played for local clubs; we had boxers and all manner of people with different talents but, you know, in this society, we value money more than talent,” he said.
According to him, he became a scavenger when he was 17. “I dropped out of school when I was in JSS3 because of my parents inability to pay my school fees. My dad couldn’t even pay our rent.”
Life on the site
Eric lamented there was no health programme for the workers. “There was no enlightenment on the health hazards. Some boys died sometimes of unidentified sicknesses, mostly Tuberculosis.”
17% of those who work on that dumpsite have hepatitis B – Nasir.
A consultant public health physician, College of Medicine, University of Lagos (CMUL) with interest in occupational health, health management and statistics, Dr. Ariyibi Nasir, told Daily Times in an interview that waste scavengers are exposed to a lot of work hazards.
“They engage in this work without any form of protective device. They use their bare hands to dig into the dumps; some go there with no boots. There is no source of potable water and they buy sachet water to drink.
“I did a research recently among them. I wanted to know what they know about blood-borne diseases like hepatitis B. Because it was discovered that aside from the general waste that end up at the dumpsites, there are also medical wastes. Though, the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) has a well set-up unit meant to go after medical facilities and collect their medical wastes for disposal somewhere else.
“But we realised that most medical facilities are not using this service. The waste scavengers, while going about their work, are exposed to different hazards. Some of them get needle stick injuries; they are injured by disposed drug bottles, and they work there under the sun all day, inhaling smoke, dust as the vehicles move up and down the site. Some of the paper wastes are laden with chemical residues and materials with heavy metals like lead.
“The study revealed that 17 per cent of those who work on that dumpsite have hepatitis B and they are not aware of it. The result has been taken to LAWMA and they are making efforts to get them enlightened on the protective measures they need to take,” he revealed.
Nasir futher said the study involved 350 individuals.
“Seventeen percent of the waste scavengers tested positive for hepatitis B. A similar study by a group across Lagos in the general population was quite lower than what was found among the waste scavengers. What we are saying is that they’ve been exposed through medical wastes that end up on that site.
“From investigations we carried out also, most of them actually confirmed they had needle stick injuries on that site. They usually encounter cotton wool with blood, bandages; even human parts. The good thing is that LAWMA, as much as possible, is working on that.
“So, apart from hepatitis B, they are also exposed to tetanus, there are jagged metals that can injure them. Some of them could come down with parasitic infections, as they eat on the dumpsite without the practice of any form of personal hygiene.
“They are also exposed to lead poisoning because on that site, there could be materials with lead as the constituent like paints, cans, electrical wastes with mercury. You can imagine someone with no protective device working under the sun with the skin exposed, with no water to bath. They are prone to skin diseases and skin cancer.
“There is also psychological stress. Some of them, who are like middlemen in the sale of the scavenged materials, go in there, work and by the time they are leaving the place, they are looking different. They fear social stigmatization from people.
“They were educated, after the study, on the need to use personal protective devices like apron, hand gloves and boots. This is their job; it should enhance them economically, not create health problems for them. If that’s the source of your daily livelihood, then you should do it in such a way that you’re not damaging your health,” he advised.
Is that the practice everywhere in the world?
“In some of the South America countries, you see a waste scavenger is well kit-up with apron, hand gloves and boots. Some of them even get vaccinated for some of these problems we are talking about. Of course, we talked about the cost and that is where some of these NGOs can come in, so that it can be subsidized for them.
“In the study, those who were positive were referred to Lagos general hospitals and those that were negative; they need to be protected by vaccination. This is where donor organisations can come in to assist them with cost of immunization for their protection.
I realized with the study that there is no reason for anyone to steal. Waste scavenging is a form of employment for some people. That site provides employment for a lot of youths so they need to be protected.
“The ones that are positive should be followed up and those who are negative should be vaccinated and importantly, the medical waste should not be on that site. Medical facilities and individuals need to dispose their wastes properly. They should utilize the services provided by LAWMA. There is a dedicated medical waste disposal site provided by the state.”
What danger does the site pose to the residents in that area?
“The environment in terms of the underground water is another problem, though in the operation of a sanitary landfill, a provision is usually made to collect and channel the waste water (leachate) that is generated as a result of waste decomposition in such a way that it does not contaminate the underground water.
“The air pollution around the dumpsite is another problem, but this has been taken off on the dumpsite. Now there is a gas pipe borehole into the land-filled areas designed to collect the gas that is generated due to waste decomposition. The pipes are channeled to storage tanks that you can see around the dumpsite.”
So much of the corrective measures seem to end up in the pipeline with little done to protect the general public and the scavengers themselves. Here is hoping that the Mega City minded government of Lagos State will see place the measures on the priority list to avoid an outbreak of epidemic even as another rainy season draws near.