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WASH expert calls for revolution in Nigeria’s sanitation sector

Professor Mynepalli K. C. Sridhar of the Division of Environmental Health Sciences, Niger Delta University says Nigeria needs a revolution in the sanitation sector to turn the tide around.


You are an Indian who have also spent considerable time in Nigeria, what  similar challenges do both countries face in the sanitation sector.

India and Nigeria are similar in many respects with regard to rate of population growth, water supply and demand and sanitation issues. There is also considerable lethargy in governmental actions in addressing issues on hand.


Policies and regulations are there but implementation is slow and also not backed up by adequate funding. In addition, traditions and culture of people also slow down the sanitation solutions. Everybody jumps at water supply but slow down when sanitation comes up. Unplanned drains, open defecation, poor hygiene practices to say a few are hampering the improvement of sanitation.


What lessons can Nigeria learn from India in efficient delivery of water supply and sanitation services as well as in liquid and solid waste  management.

I believe that money should not be the primary issue. Water should be given top priority—first availability and second quality. Instead of looking forward for gigantic projects, one must look for small and viable projects. While implementing, one should also look at community traditions, behaviour and their current practices.


For example, in Nigeria there are alternate water resources such as springs, rain water harvesting and sanitary wells and their recharge using rain water. Unfortunately, government do not look at them as feasible. Our experience in Nigeria revealed that encouraging such projects with low investments particularly at Local Government level will pay back in the long run. A few projects we handled in Oyo state, Katsina state, Osun state, and several other locations in promoting rain water harvesting, urine harvesting, ground water recharge and improved sanitation at school and community levels.


In Nigeria there are no sewerage systems in any city. Only institutional exist in Lagos, Ibadan, and other state capitals. In Abuja, there are 11sewage treatment plants but alas, none of them work. The only one functional now is WUPA, which is only running at 30% design capacity. Sewerage system will not work when water supply is not sustained. Funding is ‘strangulated’ and how can any treatment plant work?


On the solid waste management, we developed local technologies for the conversion of organic waste into fertilizer, plastic recycling into chips and flakes, metal recycling into ingots and tools. We demonstrated in 7 locations in Oyo, Ondo, Delta, and Niger States. There is lukewarm attitude in the government circles and many of such ventures will not conclude or abandoned half way through. Private enterprise does better and we have some examples where they are sustained.


What is required is a commitment by the government and communities through city or stakeholder approach. Also, government should promote small plants which can be easily manageable by the communities. Success can be achieved if these stakeholders are sensitized and encouraged. Media should also play a major role in promoting success stories.

Nigeria is not one of the countries on track to meet the Sanitation MDG , How can this situation be reversed? How can Nigeria solve its sanitation challenges?

Nigeria and many African countries are not on track. It is true. Why? There is no continuity of policies. When there is change on government, no one takes where it is stopped. Every new Minister or government official thinks as if he should introduce something new other than what his predecessor started. That attitude should stop.

They should put country first and then their personal egos. The year 2015 is around the corner to achieve MDGs. As someone (Prof Munasinghe, Nobel Laureate on sustainable development and climate change) put it, we should also look at Millennium Consumption Goals (MCG) parallel to MDGs. In the environment every action is interrelated and one should take them up in a balanced way. Certain amount of resources must be put in place to achieve the goals.  There are no shortcuts.


You attended the third  African Sanitation and Hygiene  Conference recently held in Kigali, Rwanda, last year. How do we ensure the Nigerian Government honours the ethwini  declarations and similar commitments.

I am very confident that Nigerian government will honour all the agreements. There was a good track record. But media should remind the government periodically so that the commitments will not end up in archives.


Many Nigerians still defecate in the open, and in some parts of the country, constructing a latrine is a taboo. How can this cultural hindrances to good hygiene practices be overcome?

This situation is changing now. We carried out some data collection in 8 of the northern states under UNICEF C Zone, communities are more aware of sanitation now than before.  Community Led Total Sanitation is also catching up now in some states.


Pay and Use toilets are becoming more and more popular. People particularly in markets and motor parks are ready to pay a fee of N 20 or more.  But such fee should be made affordable. There should be more public toilets managed by the community members and they make a living on them or a source of their income.  I am confident with little experience in some states that sanitation revolution is possible. More educational programmes and encouragement by government at Local level will enhance this.


What is your response to the recent UNEP on the Environmental Assessment of Ogoniland? Do you think the recommendations were far reaching? What is your advice to Government on its implementation? How will you react to groups that rejected the report as being non credible?

Ogoni problems are more complex. UNEP report should be properly interpreted and take the affected communities into confidence. The problems of Niger Delta can be tackled best by themselves and government should provide enabling environment with dialogues and back up with funds.


Do what extend has Environmental issues aggravated poverty in Nigeria?

I sometimes wonder whether Poverty is responsible for environmental degradation or environment has contributed to poverty. If I have some money on hand my first priority is food, shelter, and clothing before I think of sanitation.


Under that situation, environment is the least priority. Government should address poverty as a top priority. Agriculture is the solution in the long run followed by the industrial growth. Both are affected as of now and poverty alleviation cannot be achieved by distribution of money or some primitive tools such as hoes and cutlasses as had been done in some states.


In fact, women are more active in agriculture sector, though on a small scale. They should be empowered and encouraged to go into farming. Urban agriculture and backyard farming are sustainable solutions in the long run. Fadama farming should be implemented with more focus, eliminating local or partisan politics. There is an ancient dictum which says ‘Rain should go to River’ and ‘Waste must go back to soil’ This will bring in more sustained agriculture and a way for poverty reduction.


Are there any recent research findings you wish to share with Nigerians?

We have been very active in our researches on environmental issues. Though we are not adequately funded, we are working on rain water harvesting and ground water recharge (with some demonstration models), urine harvesting and utilization for vegetable and cereal farming, segregation of waste at source involving communities and groups, waste to wealth projects, household biogas promotion (possibly going towards carbon credits through application to livestock industry), root zone technologies to promote waste water management in small communities and selected industries, healthcare waste management, electronic waste handling and recycling  (with safety of the itinerary handlers), toxicology of lead and other heavy metals in the environment and remediation of contaminated land through phytoremediation etc. We always develop a theme around the community life and see how we can implement in alleviating the problems.


The WaterAid UK  released a report this week for more action in delivery sanitation services to the urban poor. How can this be achieved in Nigeria.

I have seen the website. The contributor is my good friend and a practical educator. To achieve sanitation goals, this document will be useful in defining the problems. Implementation needs more than that. I prefer a sanitation revolution through neighbourhood communities who should have a voice and make the government realize what they want and not following what government provides.

A democratic government should listen to the people. The present day Lagos is a typical example of good governance and that should be followed as a role model. Hats off to His Excellency Fasola and his team. A single man with clear vision can change the living conditions of masses. As Sri Sathya Sai Baba (An Indian Guru) puts it, ‘Selfless service’, putting ‘We’ instead of ‘I’ in the front, and uplifting the needy will go a long way. Nigeria can achieve the goals.