Rivers Waste-To-We alth Project: What Hope For The Future?

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Rivers State, at its creation in 1967, was the darling of all states in the federation for a number of reasons.  It had a long history of hosting one of the most inviting cities in Nigeria. That city was Port Harcourt. Its many characteristics include a serene environment, humid climate, wetland, surrounded in most parts by low land rivers stretching from the Atlantic Ocean as tributaries, beautiful but swampy and marshy creeks and flat river beds that could be turned to beaches for relaxation or perhaps, tourism. 

But typical of the features of this city was the natural aesthetics and beautiful vegetation that greeted visitors and residents at every point. The shining aura of available flora and fauna also attracted a large population to the city. Its roads were well paved and tarred. Buildings in residential areas were well planned. And recreational centres were created for residents of the bourgeoning city. This is why it gained for itself, the popular name: The Garden City. But because most of the workers of the oil and gas exploration and production companies lived in the state’s capital, Port Harcourt literally assumed the Oil City of Nigeria. Most importantly, however, its fame derives from the fact that the city was clean, healthy and beautiful by all standards. Therefore, the respect of the environment translated to sound health for the people, because bacterium and the consequent diseases had little place in the city.

But with increased population explosion in the late 1990s, however, the face of Port Harcourt began to wear a disheartening look, as most streets and major roads became dumping grounds for domestic wastes and refuse. Even scrap metals were littered on some strategic roads for months running. In fact, at a point, Port Harcourt was turned to a garbage city, as mountains of refuse took over a greater percentage of the hitherto Garden City of Nigeria. This, of course, resulted in heightened spread of diseases and chronic bacteria infections. Refuse heaps bred rodents, flies, cockroaches, rats, maggots, among other harbingers of ill-health.

It was to check this trend that the Rivers State Ministry of Environment initiated policies and programmes to reduce environmental degradation and abuse, occasioned by the indiscriminate dumping of refuse on the streets and roads, especially in Port Harcourt. The government also created the Rivers State Environmental Sanitation Authority (RSESA) to enforce environmental laws, particularly those related to refuse and sewage management, water and sanitation, as well as compliance with relevant environmental and sanitary laws. Government engaged refuse contractors, created refuse collection centres and dump sites for all refuse collected from the city. It created the Beautification, Parks and Gardens Committee to restore the Garden City status of Port Harcourt with a greening programme. Several legislations were put in place at the state legislature to ensure environmental sustainability. These laws include those that prohibit the dumping of refuse indiscriminately at areas not designated as refuse collection centres, urination or defecating at unauthorized places, pasting of posters at unauthorized places, among others.

Today, the government has begun implementation of policies and programmes that would encourage the turning of the wastes and scraps to wealth for Rivers people. This is why the laudable Waste-To-Wealth and Scrap-To-Wealth projects of the Ministry of Environment under the government of Rt. Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi. The Waste-To-Wealth project is located at Rumuokurusi at the Iriebe end of Obio/Akpor Local Government Area while the Scrap-To-Wealth facility is sited at Kira in Tai Local Government Area of the state.

These two major projects are aimed at bringing to the Amaechi administration’s mission which aims “to establish acceptable environmental standards, policies and programmes that will enhance and promote a green economy in a healthy and sustainable state”, into concrete reality. These projects are also in line with the government’s vision, “to cause a systematic environmental remediation through transparent pursuit of sectoral green policies, public engagement and equitable enforcement of environmental legislations”. 

Between October, 2007 and today, government’s commitment to the realization of these goals has resulted in a cleaner environment, as the heaps of refuse that hitherto littered the streets have gradually disappeared. Even in densely populated areas, the volume of refuse has reduced, especially in the day. The popular markets in Mile One and Three as well as that at Town, and a few other high risk points, which usually attracted mountains of refuse 24 hours and seven days a week, now witness fewer volumes of refuse at night. This is because of government’s directive that residents dump their refuse only at designated collection centres between 6pm and 12 midnight to enable refuse contractors evacuate same before 6am every day.  These refuse are dumped presently at designated dump sites in the state pending the coming on stream of the two facilities being established by government.

Development Update can now confirm that one of the strategic projects aimed at returning Port Harcourt to its original Garden City status is the Waste-To-Wealth facility. This project has a three pronged strategy. One is to create more jobs for thousands of Rivers people, who will or are already working with the 42 refuse contractors, and desperately need a good source of revenue and survival. This function is key in the Amaechi administration’s vision to bring about a state where its citizens have diverse opportunities to contribute to the economic development of the state. The other component is to create an environment that guarantees the good health of the people through sound and clean waste management system. This second role aims at allowing the refuse contractors take all the refuse and garbage off the streets and roads to the Waste-To-Wealth facility, thereby reducing the vulnerability of the people to diseases. The third strategy has a multi-dimensional function to play in the economic development of the state: The facility will take in all the refuse, sort of segregate, treat and convert or recycle them to various uses. First, the treatment of the wastes will reduce their impact on the environment. The recycling of the wastes will also create a number of derivable products for the markets. It will further create employment for many Rivers people. And above all, the facility will make huge revenue for the government by turning the wastes generated by residents into products with huge market value.

The main target of this strategy is to create jobs, ensure that there are no longer heaps of refuse on the streets and roads thereby enhancing the good health of the people, and turn the wastes to viable sources of revenue for government. This, Development Update agrees translates to turning wastes to wealth. This is because those things that most residents discard as wastes are really not wastes but wealth generating degradable and non-degradable items. The logic to turn them into wealth is therefore sound reasoning on the part of the Rivers State Government.

Hon Kingsley Chinda, the state commissioner for environment told Development Update  that government’s plan to turn the huge refuse and wastes dumped on the streets and roads of the city of Port Harcourt into reasonable wealth for the people would soon become a reality as the Waste-To-Wealth plant races to its completion in the first quarter of 2010. In fact, the commissioner asserted that the plant would be delivered to government by March, 2010. The commissioner stated that already, some refuse contractors have taken delivery of street sweepers and other trucks for the evacuation of refuse and other wastes from the city. He particularly mentioned Albayrak Africa, which has brought in 10 ATECO-branded Mercedes Benz 1517 HiDRO-MAK road sweepers and two other trucks for related functions. Development Update investigations reveal that Albayrak Africa will deploy the sweepers to the streets in D/Line in a pilot scheme to ascertain the efficiency and effectiveness of the strategy.

Hon Chinda also hinted that the ministry has started testing an aspect of the programme by deploying road sweepers to the major roads at night to ensure the neatness of the roads for motorists and other users in the day. He said the deployment of the sweepers at night was to avoid the heavy human and vehicular traffic in the day which also slows down the pace of work and exposes those sweeping the roads to serious risks. The environment commissioner noted that when work is completed on the Waste-To-Wealth facility, most of the wastes generated in the city would be evacuated to the plant for necessary sorting or segregation, treatment and conversion to other products or recycled and sold to business men and women.

The commissioner expressed optimism that the plant would meet international standards in waste control and management. According to him, the technical partners, Masias Recycling SL Espanola of Spain, which inspected progress of work on the facility, recently, has given confirmation that it meets acceptable standards. Hon Chinda also told Development Update that all equipment and machines required for the smooth take off of the facility have been delivered and are warehoused near the project site pending the completion of the plant infrastructure buildings. He assured of the ministry’s commitment to the completion of the project on schedule and within specifications. Regretting that but for the rains, the plant would have been delivered to government; Chinda further said that the face of Port Harcourt would change as soon as the facility comes on stream next year.

Project Manager of the Waste-To-Wealth facility, Mr. Henry Amadi of Combined Building Services Limited, told Development Update that the company mobilized to site in September last year, with a mandate to complete the job in three months. He said the work completion schedule had to be adjusted because of unforeseen circumstances. Amadi stressed that work was progressing steadily on the project, and re-assured that the facility would be ready by March, 2010. He noted that all adjustments requested by the technical partners during their visit have been effected. Amadi said that the rains had affected the pace of work but stated that with the rains subsiding and flood water, which ravaged the area recently, receding, work would peak soon. He said that work would soon begin on the roofing of the fermentation building, which is about the only structure not ready yet.

The project manager noted that although funding was not a problem to the contractors handling the project, the porous security situation in the area was a serious cause for concern. He requested for improved security presence in the area to ward off criminals who have cultivated the habit of raiding, pilfering and or looting the facility. Amadi said workers, especially security staff of the contracting companies have had to face incessant attacks by gunmen, saying that such attacks were becoming rampant, and needed to be checked. The lead project manager also pointed out to Development Update that the deplorable access road leading the facility required immediate rehabilitation to ensure smooth passage of both light and heavy duty trucks and equipment to the site. He stated that both his company and the other contractor, Omega Daawn Nigeria Limited, were doing their best to deliver the project as promised. He said the facility was now more than 80 per cent ready.   

Honestly, with the level of work on the project, Development Update can confirm that it is possible to deliver the facility to the government in the next four months. It is also important to state that the project could add value to the government’s mission and vision for the state in many respects. In fact, Development Update can confirm that the sweepers are making significant impact already. We can further note that the benefits of the facility are realizable, and could add impetus to the government’s overall strategy to achieve the sustainable development of the state by 2011. When on stream, this programme would no doubt increase the development momentum, facilitate the good health of the people as well as increase their contributions to the economic wellbeing of the state.

This is what good environmental management should bring to society: Good health, creation of employment opportunities, sound revenue base for the low income group, and a variety of products, goods and services for majority of the population, thereby enhancing the viability of the state for investors. Development Update believes that this is the right way to go. This will ensure that our environment brings good health for the people because, as it is said, a good and quality environment begets a healthy and productive society.