The Environment and Your Health

It has been said that the population of Nigeria as a country is larger than that of many other countries in Africa put together. Similarly, when the population of Lagos state is realistically assessed, it can be said to be said larger than those of 13 or more states in Nigeria put together. Lagos state is over populated not just with human beings, but also with assorted vehicles, trucks, trailers, tankers and cars whose massive presence on the roads tend to suffocate the environment the more. What about the marine environment where ocean-going vessels of various sizes and descriptions continuously sail in and out of Apapa harbor, Tin Can Port and others?

Still an account must be taken of the Murtala Mohammed International Airport,  Ikeja, where aircraft of various sizes and makes jet in and out to link Nigeria not just with other parts of the country but  with larger international community. All these continuously come with peculiar forms of noise pollution. They ceaselessly emit injurious gases into the air and Nigerians have no choice than to inhale all to the detriment of their health.

The traffic situation in metropolitan Lagos has become so bad that people now include time ‘burnt’ on traffic hold-ups in their daily schedules. It is almost a tradition now to consider the effects of traffic snarls while planning any programme.

Over-population is not the main cause of bad traffic in Lagos. There are tanker and truck drivers who park along the highways; even on the bridges, thus reducing otherwise three-lane roads to one. The commercial bus driver who stops indiscriminately along the road to carry passengers also constitutes a nuisance. People in this category also contribute their quota to the menace called “go slow” in local parlance.

What about the drainage system? Can this be said to be poor? No! It is true many satellite sums exist in the state. But in relative terms, Lagos is one of those planned states with drainage systems well connected to the canals and lagoons. If these drains are allowed to flow properly, flood resulting from a three- hour rain, for instance, would take 3 three minutes to disappear. But this is not so.  Rather, these drainages have been blocked not by any other agent but man itself. Mosquitoes which transits malaria have continued to have safe havens to breed. Gutters are very important conduit for articulating flood and liquid waste.

Over time, people have come to believe that such infrastructure can be used as platform for other structures hence shops and the like are erected on them.  And when this happens, it is impossible to keep the gutters clean. Gutters have also become veritable refuse bins for most people in the market who, it is alleged, go to the extent of bribing government officials to look elsewhere while they are dumping in them and desecrating the environment.

Now, when these gutters connected to the canals and lagoons are blocked, water cannot flow. Even a little rain floods the roads, leading to traffic snarls that aggravate people’s suffering within the metropolis. What are the consequences on health of the average Lagosians? The late Afro Beat king, Fela    Anikulapo- Kuti, in one of his songs narrated the scenario of a typical Nigeria’s daily life routine, describing it as a condition of “suffering and smiling “. A situation where average Nigeria workers has no personal car, he has no choice than to commute in buses  daily, especially the cheapest in town  popularly known as molue where you find more people standing than sitting and everyone crammed like a pack of sardines. As if the inconvenience is not enough, he has to grapple with the certainty of “go slow” which invariably increases his chances of being late to work or returning home! He also remembers the possibility of attack by pick-pockets, hoodlums and ubiquitous armed robbers who now reign uncontrollably.

At home, public power supply is epileptic when available, while potable water is non-existent.

What are the implications of all these on his psyche? In what ways is his health affected? Today, young and old people go down prematurely with stroke, paralysis, heart attack and the like all because of stress. Imagine the psychological effects of being stuck in the traffic for hours while thinking of where you should have been at the time. What about the toxic gases we inhale from diesel engines, trucks and buses while roasting in the traffic? Should we overlook the possibility of contacting air-borne diseases such as TB, flu, pneumonia etc. from passengers in ill-ventilated molues crammed beyond capacity with human beings? Surprisingly, Nigerians have come to accept this condition and appear to have resigned themselves to fate as, progressively, the conditions worsen.

Let us tell ourselves the truth, regardless of our deprivations; a good environment does matter in healthy living. If it does not matter, what then is the distinction between slums and ghettos and reserved areas such as Ikoyi, Victoria Island and the like? Can the serenity of beautiful lawns paved with flowers, trees and the breath of fresh air ever be compared with the acrid and choking condition of dirty surroundings? All in all, a wholesome environment, apart from contributing immensely to good health, also makes available the kind of peace and quietness man needs to enjoy a healthy living.