MR. AUGUSTINE EBISIKE MEM, Fseh, MRSPH
THE REGISTRAR, ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH OFFICERS
REGISTRATION COUNCIL OF NIGERIA;
AT THE WORLD ENVIRONMENT DAY CELEBRATION
AT FEDERAL UNIVERSITY OF TECHNOLOGY, OWERRI
THIS 31ST DAY OF AUGUST, 2012.
I am very much delighted on the honour given to me not only to participate in the celebration of this year’s world environment day with you but also to lead the discuss on the interesting topic “ the of women in community sanitation”. Two things fuel my excitement as we go on to discuss this topic. First the question posed by the theme of this year’s world environment celebration –“green economy, does it include you” and your focus on the role of women as drivers of sanitation in our communities and society at large. The answer is very obvious, green economy does not only include, but is driven by women.
Permit me to get into the discussion through conceptual clarifications of the sub-themes of the subject matter.
Community: This is defined as a group of people living together, sharing common ecological and cultural characteristics and driven by a cohesive social relationship. Of importance here is the ecological, cultural and social relationship. It is a group of people who live and derive their daily sustenance sharing a giving environmental setting and controlled by defined socio-cultural norms.
The definition of a community at Dictionary.com is “a social group of any size whose members reside in specific locality, share government, and often have a common cultural and historical heritage” The Wikipedia encyclopedia describes it is “a group of interacting people, living in some proximity (i.e., in space, time, or relationship)”. Community usually refers to a social unit larger than a household that shares common values and has social cohesion. The dictionary went further to describe community in biological terms as a group of interacting living organisms sharing a populated environment. In human communities, intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, risk, and a number of other conditions may be present and common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness. These descriptions of community suit our intent and this discussion.
Sanitation: This is the hygienic means of promoting health through prevention of human contact with the hazards of wastes. The World Health Organization states that: “Sanitation generally refers to the provision of facilities and services for the safe disposal of human urine and faces”. Inadequate sanitation is a major cause of disease world-wide and improving sanitation is known to have a significant beneficial impact on health both in households and across communities. The world ‘sanitation’ also refers to the maintenance of hygiene conditions, through services such as garbage collection and wastewater disposal, food sanitation.
The term “sanitation” can be applied to a specific aspect, concept, location or strategy, such as: Improved sanitation, on site sanitation, food sanitation, ecological sanitation, environmental sanitation etc. Ecological sanitation is an approach that tries to emulate nature through the recycling of nutrients and water from human and animal wastes in a hygienically safe manner.
Environmental sanitation when used refers to man’s activities in the environment aimed at restoring the environment to a level it will engender health and support life. I t is the control of environmental factors that form links in disease transmission. We shall dwell a little bit on this.
CONCEPT OF ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION
Environmental Sanitation is an often misconstrued subject matter. The average man on the street and even those in government circles in the country understands it as no more than the routine evacuation of collected municipal solid waste. So long as there is less observed heaps of refuse, i.e. refuse is removed from the streets, the average individual feels satisfied with the state of the environment and those in governance may give themselves kudos without recourse to other critical factors in the environment that might be infringing on the well-being of the individual in the neighborhoods or the society at large.
The World Health Organization defined Environmental Sanitation as the control of all factors in man’s physical environment which exercise or may exercise a deleterious effect on his physical development, health and survival. Ojewale (2009) sees it as “a way of life, a quality of living that is expressed in the clean home, the clean farm, the clean business, the clean neighborhood and the clean community. Being a way of life, it must come from within the people. It is nourished by knowledge and growing as an obligation and as an ideal in human relation”.
It has also been defined in the Business Dictionary (2010) as “activities aimed at improving or maintaining the standard of basic environmental conditions affecting the well-being of people”. These definitions suggest that environmental sanitation involves both behaviours and facilities which work together to form a hygienic environment. That is, there must be essential facilities available for use, the correct understanding and positive attitude and indeed the application of the facilities correctly to attain the desired sanitary state. Ojewale (2008) describes Environmental Sanitation as a system with nature, society, proves and device as its components.
The Federal Ministry of Environment (2005) defined Environmental Sanitation as “The principles and practice of effecting healthful and hygienic conditions in the environment to promote public health and welfare, improve quality of life, reduce poverty and ensure a sustainable environment”. This definition indeed that of Ojewale are quite appropriate within the parlance of this discuss, as it sees environmental sanitation as improvement in hygienic conditions directed not only to the improvement of health and welfare but also the reduction in poverty and ensuring sustainable development. Ojewale vividly pointed at sanitation as a way of life, coming from within the people (society) and assisted by nature, process and devices.
HISTORICAL BACKGROUND TO ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION:
Over the centuries, am had realized the need for the protection of his environment through safe management of waste, which is Environment Sanitation.
The Holy Bible, written about three thousand years ago contains many rules for Environmental Sanitation and describes basic Public Health measures, which are still relevant for sustainable community sanitation today. These include quarantining the sick to prevent the spread of disease and avoiding contact with objects used by sick people (Leviticus chapter 13). The book of Deuteronomy 23, vs 12-13 states, “You are to have a peace outside the camp where you can go when you need to relieve yourselves. Carry a stick as part of your equipment, so that when you have a bowel movement you can dig a hole and cover it up”. This practice is what in Public Health parlance we called “Cat Sanitation”.
The situation in ancient Greek societies further illustrates this position more succinctly. The Greek physician Hippocrates was one of first to make the connection between disease and natural environmental factors in the 4th century BC. His treatise Airs, Waters, and Places described how diseases could result from way of life, climate, impure water, and other environmental factors. For the next 2000 years, it was the most widely used text on public health and epidemiology.
“Ancient Romans adopted Greek ideas about Public Health after colonizing Greece in the 1st century BC. Roman’s greatest contributions of public health involved sanitary engineering. The build aqueducts to supply Rome with our water and a public sewer system to carry away waster as well as public baths and hospitals. The Roman government also hired physicians and assigned them to villages to care for the poor”.
The movement to a clean environment and what has become known as environmental Sanitation started in Britain in the 17th century. Sir EDWIN Chadwick first established the relationship between environment, disease and ill health, in the 1840s. He began to enquire why people become poor and after a far reaching enquiry, he concluded that people often become poor because of ill health due to a bad environment. Chadwick wrote his report “The Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Class” in 1842. This work culminated into the 1848 Public Health Act in Britain.
When Nigeria became a British colony, the British Public Health Act was enacted take care of Environmental Sanitation issues in Nigeria. Those of us who belong to the older generation will remember the exploits of the Sanitary Inspector during the Colonial period up till the 1970s. During this period, Environmental Sanitation was effectively carried out and those diseases, which have a relationship with Environmental Sanitation, were kept to at bay. This reduced the cost of health care services for both the government and the people as preventive health care was emphasized rather than the situation today where purely preventive diseased have been made to look like and treat with curative approaches with attendant cost overruns as is the case with Mosquito control and malaria treatment.
COMPONENTS OF ENVIRONMENTAL SANITATION
Nwankwo (2004) and Reeve (2002) described Environmental Sanitation as comprising the provision of safe and adequate water supply, proper and efficient disposal of wastes, safeguarding of food, provision of insect vector and other pest control measures, control of animal reservoirs of infection, air hygiene and prevention of atmospheric pollution and the elimination of environmental hazards, pollution like noise, radiation.
Also, environmental sanitation components is listed in Business Dictionary (2010) to include (i) clean and safe water supply, (ii) clean and safe ambient air, (iii) efficient and safe animal, human and industrial waste disposal, (iv) protection of food from biological and chemical contaminates and, (v) adequate housing in clean and safe surroundings.
However, the essential components of environmental sanitation were listed more elaborately by Badejo (2008) and the Federal Ministry of Environment (2005) and include:
Housing sanitation including House –to– House Sanitary Inspection of Premises. Solid waste management; Medical waste management; Excreta and sewage management; food sanitation; cleaning of streets and drainages; Market and Abattoir sanitation; Adequate potable water supply; School sanitation; Pest and vector control’ management of urban drainage; Control of reared and stray of animals; Disposal of the dead (man and animals); Weed Vegetation control; Hygiene education and promotion.
From the ongoing discussions it is clear that environmental sanitation has expanded much on the original concept of sanitation which we referred to as merely provision of facilities and services for the safe disposal of human urine and feces to include other important concepts as care of foods, streets, markets, houses, schools, dead man and above all education of others on hygiene issues.
When these sanitation activities are carried out through an organized common effort of the community we refer to such as community sanitation. The community ordinarily from its definition and concept share in common – environment, government, culture, common risks, defense, norms, social cohesion etc. and has definite social pattern of sharing with on another the burden and joys of the environment. Community sanitation therefore refers to the intrinsic organization, processes and actions a community takes to bring under control the deviations from the natural environment which is or may likely affect the health and life of the inhabitants or property.
From the definitions of sanitation we can summarize that sanitation is a way of life (intrinsic), a process which is enhanced y diverse (infrastructure) and driven by knowledge. It must come from within the people. It is nourished by knowledge and growing as an obligation and as an ideal in human relation”. For sanitation to thrive, people must have basic knowledge, imbibe the culture and possesses basic materials and equipment/infrastructure to support their sanitation action.
How then do women come in here? Women in our culture connote family, generational change development and industry. In our traditional Nigerian Society, women are responsible for keeping the home safe and hygienic. They are the people responsible for the provision of drinking water by fetching water from the stream or well or wherever it is found.
In our traditional society women wake up early in the morning daily to sweep the compound. On the village market day they sweep from their various compounds to the main roads of the village where they meet other women who have equally swept from their own compounds to the main road. From the main road they sweep to the market square where all the women in the village would converge having swept the road from their various compounds through the network of roads in the village to the village market square. This is a way that the women in the traditional community keep the community clean. In the area of food sanitation, the Nigeria women has learnt to thoroughly cook food thereby ensuring that enteric diseases are destroyed and ensure The Nigeria woman also bequeaths these sanitation precepts to her children and the culture had continued.
Unfortunately, this part of our culture is weaning as we continue to urbanize. These days, it is becoming common to see women not caring for their family’s basic sanitation but rather depend on city authorities to ensure that their immediate environment is kept clean.
Women are central to the achievement and sustenance of environmental sanitation in our various communities. They played a central role in the past and should be made to continue to play that motherly caring role not for their families alone but for the environment where they live and work.
1. Ojewale S.A. (2008) Water Sanitation as a key Achieving the Goals of International Year of Sanitation Public lecture presented at the 41st Annual National Conference/Scientific Workshop of Environmental Health officers Association of Nigeria at Glory Land Cultural Center Auditorium Yenago Bayelsa Sate 24th -30th March 2008.
2. Ojewale S.A. (2009) Environmental Sanitation: Making Every Day Counts Public lecture presented at the 42nd National Conference/Scientific Workshop of Environmental health officers Association of Nigeria at IBB Secretariat Complex, Damaturu Yobe State, 19th – 22nd November 2009.
3. Federal Ministry of Environment 2005, National Environment Sanitation Policy.
4. Nwankwo, Benjamin O. (2004) Environmental Sanitation and Health 1st ed. Cherry Bren and Co. Owerri, pp:3-6.
5. Reeve R. (2002) Introduction to Environmental Analysis USA, John Willey and Sons Ltd, pp:1-2
6. CIEH (2003) Chartered Institute of Environmental Health London @www.cieh.org.
7. ELI (2000) Community Environmental Health Assessment Workbook. By Environmental Law Institute, Environmental Law Institute, Washington, DC, USA. Page 1.