Last week, residents of Surulere, Lagos, woke up to a sad reality. A heavy downpour has flushed the openly dumped waste into the urban drains clogging the system and resulting in a flash flood. Photos of stranded residents and vehicles trapped in stagnant water as a result of choked drainage systems flooded the internet. The flooding incident reminded us once again that waste management is an essential utility service that is often taken for granted — particularly in developing countries — until things go wrong.
As an Environmental Engineer, I am drawn to the Nigerian waste management crisis, because it affects nearly all cities and rural areas. While at first glance, the waste crisis may seem like a complex challenge, a simple and effective framework has been developed. The Sustainable Waste Management (SWM) framework outlines detailed strategies for tackling the waste management crisis in developing countries. The fundamental elements in the SWM include the expansion of waste collection (if possible, to a 100%,), the elimination of open dumping and uncontrolled burning, and the creation of an inclusive stakeholder framework. This framework is a viable pathway to solve the looming waste challenge in Nigeria.
In Lagos for instance, the approach to waste collection needs to be improved significantly. Data from the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LASMA) shows that only an estimated 30% of daily waste generated in Lagos is collected. This implies almost 70% of the generated waste is likely to be dumped in the open or burnt uncontrollably. Comparatively, when reviewing the waste management situation in a similar city like Accra, Ghana, collection coverage is estimated at 75%. The disparity between both cities is vast. Furthermore, under the current situation of Lagos, it is unsurprising if a heavy rain washed these uncollected waste streams into nearby drainage systems.
Three major landfills and 2 temporary sites currently serve the state of Lagos. Although this capacity is inadequate for its 20 million population, the traffic challenge within Lagos makes waste transportation highly inefficient, which further complicates the crisis. The project to upgrade the three (3) principal landfills and disposal sites at Olushun, Abule-Egba and Solous needs to speed up to meet the rapid demand for waste disposal. This will reduce traffic congestion, improve the turnaround time of trucks, and facilitate quick recovery of garbage from local dumpsites or residential areas.
Another aspect to consider in providing the solution for waste management is the need for more productive and inclusive stakeholder engagement. LAWMA acknowledges this strongly as captured on their website : “Advocacy is a daily routine where our advocacy team drives around the state to enlighten the people on our waste handling, containerization, sorting, building and tariff programs”. Additionally, the advocacy team also collects information on complaints and suggestions. I have been to Lagos on several occasions and have been delighted to see how Lagosian (Lagos indigenous citizens) are full of energy from the market women to the “Danfo ” bus conductors.
The waste management framework must harness this energy to succeed at all levels in order to govern, plan, execute and finance waste management projects. Individuals should be enlightened on the appropriate usage of waste bins and the implications of irresponsible waste disposal. Further, partnerships should be encouraged between households and LAWMA personnel to ensure appropriate placement and timely recovery of waste disposal bins. This partnership can be fostered further for appropriate household waste filtering, to ensure that these citizens can separate recyclable and unrecyclable waste. Most importantly, the Lagos state government must sustain their political will and financial commitment to keep the system afloat.
Like Lagos, most cities in Nigeria are faced with a waste management crisis. For a sustainable solution, appropriate agencies need to integrate the basic elements of SWM — expanding collection, ending open dumping, and intensifying stakeholder engagement — or scale them up where they already exist.