Exploring The Links Between Environmental Pollution and Public Health in Nigeria

Environmental pollution is a global issue affecting countries worldwide, and West Africa, including Nigeria, is not exempted. According to a recent report from Oxford University’s Our World in Data platform and Daily Mail UK, Nigeria currently ranks as the 8th most polluted country globally, 10 countries ahead of its 18th position as released in 2022. From the toxic releases from exhaust pipes and oil spills to the incessant inefficient disposal of bodily and chemical wastes, several factors subtly trail the declining health of the Nigerian populace. In this article, we explore the effects of different forms of pollution on public health.

Arguably, air pollution currently stands as the leading contributing factor to the various health issues in Nigeria and is primarily due to road transport. In major cities like Lagos, Ibadan, and Onitsha, the smoky monoxide-saturated releases from exhaust pipes in these dense areas have been scientifically linked to dangerous health conditions such as lung cancer, stroke, and respiratory symptoms that include chest pains, difficulty breathing, coughs and headaches. In addition, the dusty nature of some Nigerian roads could cause a bodily reaction, especially in asthmatic and diabetic individuals. Exposures to dust storms could increase the risk of pulmonary diseases and could trigger an allergic reaction in some cases. Many Nigerians, especially rural inhabitants, face these health issues but are unaware that they can be attributed to the state of their daily travels health-wise. Some of the preventive measures one can take include:

  • Working up your vehicle to prevent the discharge of smoky fumes during travels
  • Keeping the windows of your vehicle closed while traveling on dusty roads

According to Dr. Jane Bevan, the United Nations Children’s Fund, UNICEF, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, Nigeria needs approximately 3.9 million toilets annually to meet its objective of curbing open defecation. Currently, Nigeria builds about 180,000 to 200, 000 toilets yearly and suffers greatly from the public release of fecal matter into its aquatic environments. Other factors that degrade Nigerian waters include crude oil spills from illegal refining, unhealthy disposal methods for household wastes, and the chemical wastes released from various industries. Open defecation increases the risk of water-borne diseases like cholera, typhoid, and dysentery, these could get severe, especially in children. Crude oil spills render water unsuitable for any purpose and could lead to death when ingested, while the improper disposal of refuse or sewage in streams and rivers promotes the growth of various vectors, aiding the emergence of diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus. Preventive measures against water-borne diseases include:

  • Ensuring that wastes in our homes and shops are properly disposed
  • Getting rid of any form of stagnant water around our localities that could promote the growth of vectors

Although the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NERSEA) has long established regulations and appropriate fines for any individual or organisation that creates noise up to the extent that it becomes unhealthy for other inhabitants, the enforcement of these rules remains inadequate. Consequently, Nigerians, especially residents in the most populated areas suffer an unhealthy dissonance of noise from the honks from traffic, loud calls from hawkers, and music from amplified advertising speakers amongst many others. This renders residents prone to auditory issues like tinnitus and to a longer term, the loss of hearing.

Indeed the government is working towards the actualization of an healthy environment for every Nigerian and this can be seen from the various step taken to help fight pollution such as The National Generator Emission Control Programme (NGECP) flagged off earlier this year in tandem with the National Vehicular Emission Control Programme (NVECP) to reduce air pollution and The Clean Nigeria: Use the Toilet Campaign, an initiative geared towards ending open defecation in Nigeria by 2025 established by the Federal government in collaboration with UNICEF and many others. Yet, as citizens, we must learn to take cognizance of the fact that the best way to a healthy life only comes from imbibing a hygienic lifestyle and seemingly little actions like the proper disposal of wastes in any form, respect for the auditory comfort of others and proper vehicular servicing to curb smoky releases would, in no small way, contribute greatly to the betterment of every one of us.

Boyede Boyejo

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