Thursday, November 8, 2012

Environmental Sanitation: Making Every day counts

Ojewale A. S., a lecture presented at the 42nd national conference/scientific workshop of Environmental health Officers Association of Nigeria, 19-22nd October, 2009, Damaturu.

The topic-“Environmental Sanitation: Making Everyday Counts readily reminded one of some religious injunctions and tenets-to “pray 5 times daily or helping us to counts our days” or even saying that we should keep the “Sabbath day holy”. All these are spiritual and moral instructions that have bearing on the environment. Because environmentally relevant psychology and sociology must deal with human actions bearing on environmental quality, it seems relevant to develop a systematic description of those circumstances that are termed environmental problems and the behaviours that may influence them.
          Environmental concerns can be divided into three major areas on which “everyday must count” (a) Environmental aesthetics and the quality of life (b) Physical health and the survival of the human species on this planet and (c) Concern for the maintenance and efficient use of available resources-renewable and non-renewable including social infrastructures.
Conceptually, I subscribe to the view that most environmentally relevant behaviour can be thought of in terms of the three components of an operant paradigm described by B.E. Skinner (1953). This mode is symbolized by term SD – R – SS.
          In the model a discriminative stimulus (symbolized by the letter SD) or environmental context, set the occasion for a response (R). Think of an SD as signal that a particular behaviour is called for in a particular context.
          The response itself often acts upon the environment that is our immediate and distant surroundings usually change as a function of what we do i.e. every action counts as everyday counts.
 This change(s) (symbolized by SR) can be either positive (SR+) or. (SR-). We call the change reinforcing or positive (SR+) when it is shown that the future likelihood of that behaviour increases but if the response decreases in the future. We say the change has been negative, or ‘punishing’.
          This paradigm is a fruitful way to view behaviour in relation to numerous environmental sanitation problems presently confronting use. For example, it has long been known that the consequences that are most likely to influence behaviour arc, other things being equal, those that follow the behaviour closely in time. Many if not all environmental sanitation problems are seemingly due to this fact about behaviour. There appear to be conflicts between short term positive consequences and long term negative ones i.e. “social traps”.
          My intention here is to attract attention to individual and societal behaviour that impinge negatively on the environment-bad environmental sanitation habits, thus we may treat the causes rather than the effects or treating the two together.
          By the way, behaviour within the context of this paper means and include all those actions we do or fail to do that have impacts on the sanitation of our immediate and distant environment.
 Sanitation is a French coinage ‘sanitas’ – meaning health. Thus, environmental sanitation can be taken to mean a process of making the environmental sanitary healthy hygienic and aesthetic.
Also, the national sanitation of USA defines sanitation “As a way of life”. It is the quality of living that is expressed in the clean home, the clean farm, the clean business, the clean neighborhood and the clean community. Being the way of life, it must come from within the people; it is nourished by knowledge and growing as an obligation and an ideal in human relation.
          Furthermore, the World Health Organization sees environmental sanitation as the control of all factors in man’s physical environment which exercise or may exercise a deleterious effect on his physical developmental health and survival. Within the parlance of this discuss, the definition of Environmental Sanitation (ES) by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF), USA, is quite appropriate as it sees environmental sanitation as the quality of living the status of living where every second, minute, hour, week and day counts in the home workplaces, neighborhood and in the community at large to making the places sanitary, healthy, hygienic and aesthetic.
          But why does everyday count in environmental sanitation? I am tempted to believe that we meant the casual, perfunctory and reluctant approaches to sanitation issues under the guise of declaring a Day in the month as a sanitation is a ruse and a feigned political or pseudo political will that will fade away with time.
          The monthly environmental sanitation was introduced by the military government some decades ago, nothing appreciable could be shown for it except as a convenient avenue to waste or siphon public fund. People see it as infringing on their fundamental human right and they are always ready to disobey. This apart, it has gone into the psyche of the people that it is only once in a month that you can sanitize your premises-whereas everyday counts.
Environmental Sanitation in Nigeria Today
It is like opening and old wound to raise catalogue of woes or raising dusts my attempt to enumerate the deplorable environmental sanitation situation in Nigeria as it is now, but was have no choice than to chronicle or highlight them to stimulate or provoke our actions albeit satirically.
Practices are usually on policies. Hence, to have a fuller discussion of sanitation practices, detailed understanding of the contemporary sanitation related policies are necessary starting from the pre-independence era, our country has had to grapple with environmental sanitation from the cantonment proclamation of 1901 on the layout and sanitation of GRA to the promulgation of the Public Health Act 1909 on Environmental Sanitation and Building Regulation of 1948.
          Enforcement of Sanitation Laws largely the responsibility of Environmental Health Officers. With this in place, the system is virtually collapsing in the following areas among numerous others. Through this we shall be able to realize why and how everyday counts in sanitation matters.
          Sanitation counts on daily basis because inadequate sanitation is a major cause of disease worldwide and improving sanitation is known to have significant beneficial impact on health in household and across communities.
          Out of the estimated population of Nigeria of over 140 million, sanitation coverage (MICS 3) in urban areas is about 70% in the rural areas 31% coverage ranges as low as 10% to over 80% in some states. Only about 30% have access to improved sanitation and about 20% of the population use open defecation (WHO/UNICEF JMP Report 2008).
          Access to hand washing facilities (water, soap and basin) is less than 43% NDIIS 2003).
          Nigerian populations generate refuse at the rate of 0.43kg/head/day and about 70-30% of it is organic in nature. Among other components, 15% accounts for plastic/nylon and about 1 to 2% is metal scrap (Sridhar, 2005). It is common to find garbage glut in many of our cities form heaps and dumps being invaded by unprotected refuse pickers (………….) who seek out a living from wastes, stray animals also scatter the waste to litter the environment. These illegal dumps serve as breeding around for disease vectors like mosquitoes while leachate percolates the soil to contaminate groundwater.
          Yes, everyday counts in environmental matter because the production of waste in general and domestic waste in particular is the most characteristic features of the development of our society this century. The quantity and composition of our waste are indicators of our habits as consumers and of our concern for the environment.
          We must not forget that domestic refuse contains dangerous products such as solvent, batteries, paints, pesticides etc. The presence of what are called heavy metal is especially dangerous, these toxic elements build up in the earth and water from which they can enter the metabolism of living beings and threaten their existence.
          On daily basis, there squander behind the high levels of consumption among most Nigerians resulting in heaps of refuse, most of which cannot be reintroduced into nature’s biogeochemical cycles. The more advanced the technology and the industrial civilization, the larger the various and categories of wastes generated. Contamination also occurs when decomposition and recycling fail to take place. The challenge is to understand that our role in the biosphere is to manage natural resources, that is to use and construct according to the very laws or spirit of the biosphere. The underlying premise must be the moderation and rationalization of our species, relationship with its environment.
          Depending on our administration of refuse and on our alimentary habits and consumption in general, we can increase or reduce the greenhouse effect, ozone layer depletion, global warming, urban heat island, acid precipitations. EL-NINO effects among other climatic problem.
          One can continue endlessly to catalogue all sorts of environmental sanitation problems that are springing up on daily basis. Food vendors are no more practicing personal and environmental hygiene resulting and food contamination, adulteration and poisoning. We do not need to underrate this because more than 70% of the masses depend on vended food nowadays.
          The water packaged industries aka “pure water” are not obeying the rules and regulations of sanitation –food policy or no food policy. Generally, sanitation is a problem that people are often shy or unprepared to discuss, with household waste and its disposal being unpopular subjects from local to the international level.
          Another pertinent question is – what do we need to count? This does not mean counting chronologically, we should be mindful of environmental behaviours and habits, at every moment for the fact that when our stimuli become habits or behaviours, our responses to stimuli become “social traps”.
          We enjoy violating environmental laws because of short time enjoyment to the detriment of the future generation even the present generation.
The pivot on which the achievement and accomplishment of Millennium Development Goals rest is SANITATION, that makes it more imperative to make it (sanitation) count of every moment.
Environmental sanitation is central to the 8 points of the Millennium Development Goals-
  • Eradication of poverty and hunger
  • Achievement of universal primary education (UPE)
  1. Promote gender equity and empower women
  2. Reduce child mortality
  3. Improve maternal health
  4. Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
  5. Ensure environmental sustainability
  6. Develop a global partnership for development.
In September 2002, the World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. S/A reaffirmed the Millennium Development Goals and added access to basic SANITATION as centerpiece to achieving Millennium Development Goals. In 2007, recognizing the impact of sanitation on health poverty reduction and economic and social development the United Nations GA declares 2008 the International Year of Sanitation (IYS). Five key messages for the IYS are:
  1. Sanitation is vital for human health
  2. Sanitation generates economic benefits
  3. Sanitation contributes to dignity and social development
  4. Sanitation helps the environment
  5. Improving sanitation is achievable.
International Year of Sanitation also focuses on:
  • Human excreta disposal, hence the target of Millennium Development Goals to halve the population of people without access to basic sanitation by 2015.
  • Hygiene, especially and washing with soap
  • Favourable enabling environment.
There is an intimate synergy and symbolic relationship between Environmental Sanitation, Millennium Development Goals. International Year of Sanitation and the Federal Government of Nigeria 7 point agenda. Food security, social security, economic emancipation etc are central in the 7 point agenda. All the seven points are directly or indirectly related to environmental sanitation.
          The implications of neglecting Environmental Sanitation on the 7 point agenda are far too many. For instance, the increase in the prevalence and evidence of emerging re-emerging and existing environmentally related communicable diseases is quite alarming. Non-communicable diseases as a result of hostile environment are also increasing – cancer, hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular problems to mention a few.
          The earth provides enough to satisfy every man’s need but not every man’s greed. Greediness in different forms makes us to be desecrating destroying degrading and disrupting the biosphere and the ecosystem.
          It is a matter of urgency that we should …………………………….. environmental sanitation because improved sanitation has been associated with better health and nutritional status. The improper disposal of faeces and waste water causes contamination of the environment and our resources.
          Pathogens from our waste pollute our water and ……………………………… bodies. When 80% of the diseases in Nigeria are result to improper sanitation much more than one’s own health is affected.
          Our economy as a whole is impacted due to the fact that people must pay visit to the doctor and may even lose their jobs……………………..
          Specifically, many working days are lost annually due to sickness caused by unsafe water and lack of sanitation.
Education is also impacted when pupils dropout of school due to ill health. This mindset that all aspects of our life are affected by poor environmental sanitation.
Since our environment is a web of complex interactions which can be disturbed by any amount intrusion, therefore, we must implement ecological sanitation, the reuse and recycling of our waste to ensure the health economic stability and education of our country.
          Information, Education and Communication (IEC) are three very important aspects of creating a demand in communities for proper sanitation on a regular daily basis to making everyday count.
          Participation from the community is an important asset to the success of any project. Especially in the field of sanitation, people are more inclined to use and support the sanitation improvements if they have a role in creating them. Therefore, Environmental Health Officers should train and operate on the opinion that to ensure the use of its latrines and soakage pits community must participate in their establishment.

I want to conclude this paper by reminding us of the saying of Mahatma Gandi of India. He said, “any city that would attend to its sanitation in a proper spirit, will add to both its health and wealth”.
          Sanitation is more important than independence” (Anonymous), therefore consciously and responsible be environmental friendly on a daily basis making everyday to count in environmental sanitation.
Thank you all.
Environmental Situation in Environmental Sanitation institute. Retrieved September 15, 2009,
John, D.C. and Steven, C.H. (1998). Environmental Problems/behavioural solutions. California: Brooks/Cole Pub. Comp.
Sridhar, M.K.C. (2007). Evolution of Environmental Health and Emerging Challenges: The Role of Practitioners. A paper presented at EHORECONMCEP.
The Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (1997). Environmental Health –The Challenge. Worldwide. Web, 29 Jan. 1997.
WHO (1971). Expert Committee Report of Solid Waste Management, Technical Report Series. No. 125.
WHO (2005, May). Protection of the Human Environment. Retrieved September 12. 2009, from  

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