Sanitation literally means
measures necessary for improving and protecting the people’s health and wellbeing.
It promotes proper disposal of human and animal wastes, proper use of toilet, general cleanliness as well as the need to avoid open defecation.
In spite of the glaring need to always keep the environment clean, observers, nonetheless, decry the manner in which the monthly environmental sanitation is being carried out across the country.
They particularly resent the idea of shutting down daily activities or restricting the people’s movement for hours as a result of the exercise.
Sharing similar sentiments the former Minister of Health, Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu, said that the monthly sanitation was obviously counter-productive to the economy, insisting that it was not necessary to close down activities in the country for hours because of environmental sanitation.
He called for the reintroduction of sanitary inspectors, as part of efforts to achieve environmental health in the country.
Chukwu recalled that the country was never shut down when the Federal Government was tackling the Ebola Virus Disease (EVD).
“The health sector is working with the Ministry of Environment to see how we can revert to the old practice where we had sanitary inspectors.
“I believe Nigeria must go back to those days; we must get people who would be anxious to rid the environment of filth.
“At that time, the people were conscious of the fact that environmental inspectors could come at any time to check their surroundings. To me, this is more effective than the monthly sanitation.
“I personally don’t support monthly sanitation, it is counter-productive to the economy,” he added.
Chukwu advised state governors to cancel the monthly environmental sanitation exercise, adding that “if not, it should be carried out without the restriction of the people’s movement.”
He, however, emphasised the need to enforce the country’s laws on environmental health, urging the Federal Government to take the lead in that direction.
“What we need are people to enforce our regulations, we already have enough regulations on environmental health,” he said.
However, some traders bemoan the man hours that are lost to environmental sanitation exercises in states across the country.
A printer in Shomolu, Lagos, Mr Edward Osin, said that private businesses often incurred greater losses during environmental sanitation periods.
He stressed that the closure of shops during the periods was tantamount to a waste of time, adding that it should be discontinued.
Osin, who noted that one of the purposes of the exercise was to keep the market environment clean, however, stressed that the purpose had been largely defeated due to the non-enforcement of the cleanup exercise by the authorities.
“The exercise would have helped a lot in improving the sanitation of our markets but there is no enforcement by those involved.
“The government officials are more interested in locking shops to extort money from their owners, rather than ensuring compliance.
“Many traders clean up their shops and the environment everyday but the wastes generated are not evacuated immediately.
“Sometimes the refuse are left uncollected in nearby locations for many days; the sanitation laws ought to be reviewed,” Osin said.
Mr Bathelomew Eze, a businessman, called on the government to review its sanitation policy so as to ensure proper environmental hygiene.
“The monthly environmental sanitation exercises provoke loss of man-hours and productivity.
“I believe markets can remain open while environment is being cleaned, rather than making people to lose substantial time of the day.
“Government should make the time flexible for businessmen because in just three hours, a lot of transactions could be lost and this is not good for the economy,” he said.
Eze said that the environmental officers should be strengthened to enforce sanitation laws and apply sanctions appropriately.
Also speaking, a public health physician working for National Blood Transfusion Service (NBTS), Dr Baba Ahmed, said that environmental sanitation should be a daily affair and not limited to a particular day in a month.
Explaining the intrinsic link between good health and clean environment, Ahmed said that if the environment was dirty, the residents would be at risk of contracting diseases such as measles, polio and malaria as well as air-bone diseases.
He, however, noted that during environmental sanitation days, the cleanup exercise appeared to be a waste of time, as many residents often preferred to stay indoors doing nothing, waiting for the exercise to end.
Ahmed, nonetheless, underscored the need to promote the cleanliness of the people’s surroundings, as the physical, mental, psychological and spiritual wellbeing of a person could never be achieved without a healthy environment.
“However, there is no reason why commuters should be prevented from passing through a state because of an ongoing environmental sanitation, considering the fact that those travellers are on transit and just using the highway.
“Besides, there is no need to designate a special day for environmental sanitation, as the cleaning of the surroundings should be an everyday affair.
“Even in places where the sanitation is being done, the collected waste is usually left by the roadside for days, thereby exposing the public to pathogens.
“The water we drink, the food we eat and the air we breathe come from the environment. It is through the environment that people contract infectious diseases.
“Do we then require somebody to tell us that a particular day should be set aside for environmental sanitation?” he quipped.
Ahmed stressed that sanitation should also involve designed efforts to influence the people’s personal habits and behaviour in relation to waste management procedures.
He also underscored the need to monitor the implementation of government’s environmental policies and the enforcement of sanitation laws.
He, however, stressed the wisdom in creating and sustaining public awareness in communities on the need to engage in regular sanitation “because most of the diseases ravaging our country today are products of a filthy environment.
“If we do not take care of our environment, vector-borne diseases will grow and thrive, we will then become the sufferers.
“If we can properly dispose of our waste, we will enjoy good health,” he said.
Nevertheless, Ahmed argued that environmental sanitation programmes could be counter-productive if they were not articulated and executed in pragmatic ways.
Observers, however, insist that there is obviously no need to shut down people’s businesses and activities simply because of the need to keep the environment clean, arguing that the cleaning of the environment should be a routine affair.
They also underscore the need to re-introduce sanitary inspectors who will carry out routine checkup of premises in all neighbourhoods, as part of the pragmatic measures put in place to keep the environment clean.
Nwanchukwu is of the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).