Toilets, washing facilities, adequate drainages, water quality, refuse and wastewater disposal: sanitation facilities such as these are a prerequisite for clean, healthy household and community living environments, particularly in rural areas. Broadly speaking, sanitation services are a vital safeguard to environmental quality.

In rural areas and even urban centers in Nigeria, the sanitation crisis is keenly felt. In most of these areas, there are often no way to safely dispose of either faeces or refuse, around a three quarter of the rural  dwellers resort to open defecation, “short putting” (also known as “wrap and throw”) or dumping refuse bins in public spaces. This situation is not limited to rural areas, in impoverished city suburbs, small market towns in urban centers across the country, the public environment are full of waste.

Oblivious of the imminent health hazards, the people leave faeces and other waste materials anywhere and everywhere.  Poor sanitation creates a host of health hazards as well as a bleak and disheartening visual landscape. This is coupled with the harsh reality that the roads are full of mud, puddles, while the open gullies are filled with piles of garbage and debris, not to mention disease-carrying insects, microbes and rodents. The odours are often unpleasant.

The implication is that in a community of more than  10,000 inhabitants, 30 percent of whom practice open defecation and since each person produces about 150 grams of faeces,  the practice of open defecation would result in almost 450 kg daily or more than3 tons a week – or 100 full dump trucks’ worth of human excrement annually – deposited in the community.

Living in such squalid environment harms physical and psychological health; is stigmatizing. It presents a picture of human degradation; and deepens human poverty.

A healthy living environment, one that supports human dignity and is free of disease transmitting agents and conditions, is impossible without sanitation services.

With this in mind, the Environmental Law Research Institute (ELRI) a non – profit organization for environmental research, policy analysis and promotion of human health and the environment situated at Ikoyi, Lagos State, embarked on an advocacy visit to Oribanawa and Makoko communities to raise awareness on the importance of sanitation and healthy living.

The Team’s first point of call was the Ilaje, Makoko community. Makoko is a slum neighbourhood located around rge Iwaya , yaba area of Lagos State . At present its population is considered to be about 85,840; although, the area was not officially counted as part of the 2007 census, the population is considered to be much higher. Established in the 18th century primarily as a fishing village, much of Makoko rests in structures constructed on stilts above the Lagos Lagoon. Today the area is essentially self-governing with a very limited government presence in the community. Makoko has existed for over a century and derived its name from 'Omi-Akoko', which loosely translates as ' Waters ringed by palm trees’. Makoko and its two neighbouring communities namely Oko-Agbon and Ago Egun appear to have been neglected by government. The three communities are connected by a short bridge constructed over a wide canal in which there lies stagnant, black and murky water.
Although the three communities are distinct, they share common history, characteristics and problems, and people generally refer to the whole area as Makoko. But Oko –Agbon according to history was first populated by the Ilajes of Ondo state, while Egun people who are from Badagry and the Republic of Benin first settled in Ago-Egun. These people first settled in Agege-Odo, the present site of University of Lagos, before they were ordered to vacate the place for the establishment of the institution in the 60’s.
The team arrived Makoko community amidst an anxious atmosphere of tension and suspicion created by the visit of the Monitoring Unit department of the Lagos Ministry of Environment. Despite the tensed atmosphere, the Baale of the community welcomed the team. The Baale Alhaji Kayode Ayetiwa ushered the team to his office while explaining the reason for the suspicious glances they had received as they approached.

The programme director for ELRI, Ms Bunmi Moses gave a brief introduction of the Institute, emphasizing that the advocacy visit was part of the Institute’s environmental health and sanitation awareness programme.  Recounting the experience of the team as they approached the community, Ms Moses noted that the road to the community was in a deplorable state, that the drainages were over flowing, the waters murky and dirty and that the people lived on the water in shanty houses. She inquired if this was the original housing plan for the people or if it was their preference.
The Baale, who is the head of the community welcomed the team and explained that water was the people’s natural habitat. He indicated that Makoko was originally established primarily as a fishing village, though it has transcended that at the moment, as other structures and trades have come on board, but that it still remained a fish market characterized by environmental and infrastructural problems. He pointed out the community was home to one of the popular fish markets in the area. According to him, though a visit the Makoko-Asejere Market can be thought to be disorderly, it was also located in an environmentally challenging location. The market is often flooded with fish in their different species and sizes.
Sadly, though, despite the economic potential of this fish haven, it portends a picture of abject poverty and degradation. Children could be seen in scanty clothes in wooden canoes on the dark murky water, some women were seen carrying buckets of water from the lagoon; some were smoking fish near the brink of the water and bathing in makeshift bathrooms over the water with the bath water running back into the Lagoon.
Also, there were no educational facilities in the community, the schools in the community were privately owned; though the community is situated in the coastal areas of Lagos they lacked portable water supply and waste disposal, the lack of proper waste disposal left the community with the option of resorting to indiscriminate dumping of human and municipal waste in the lagoon the community’s natural habitat.

While speaking on the poor sanitary conditions in the community, Ms Moses advised on the need to enhance awareness on good sanitary practices in the community. She stated that children particularly have a high risk of illness from poor sanitation. While adults may live, children have a potential to die from diarrhea and related diseases die from these illnesses. She emphasized that it was important for children not only to have access to toilets but to know how to use them. She stated that this was important because good sanitary practices help reduce unwarranted sicknesss form children. Moreover, teaching the children about good hygiene and about illness caused by poor sanitation are some ways to help them develop healthy behaviors.  In this regard, she indicated that ELRI intended to hold a water and sanitation awareness programme in the community and would require the approval of the Baale and the support of the community for the meeting to be successful.

With deep sense of indignation Baale and community leaders present agreed that indeed the absence of these basic amenities in the community posed serious environmental challenges to the community. He however noted that attempts had earlier been made by an NGO spearheaded by a medical doctor from University of Lagos Teaching hospital (LUTH) to assuage this unsavory situation, the state of affairs has remained without respite as a result of lack of government assistance.  Thus making the community’s environment unhealthy. He therefore welcomed the offer of the ELRI to hold the water and sanitation awareness programme. He believed that his people lived the way they did because they had no other option. He also indicated that government’s support in provision of public toilets in the area would be most welcome!

In closing Ms Moses pledged ELRI’s commitment to assisting the people enhance the sanitary condition in the community as this was a necessary prerequisite for promoting and attaining environmental health and wellbeing. She thanked the Baale and urged the Baale to hold meetings with the community heads and inform the Team when the programme would be held.