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Eking out a living in garbage

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Danger looms as scavengers swoop dumpsites in Onitsha, Lagos, others
ALTHOUGH scavenging, an act of unauthorised persons going through recycling or refuse containers and dumpsites, is considered a crime in various cities in the world because of its health implications and loss of revenue, it is however, a booming trade in Nigeria without restrictions.

Scavenging has become a family business in Lagos, Onitsha and other major towns, while the authorities look the other way.

But in cities such as San Diego, a major city in California, United States, scavenging is taken seriously because of its impact on the curbside programme, irrespective of whether the containers and dumpsites being rummaged by scavengers are located on city or private property.

Also in San Diego, scavengers reportedly steal thousands of dollars in recyclables from the city’s curbside programme, which makes the programme less cost efficient and ultimately, costs taxpayers.

To help stop this crime, the city encourages residents, who encounter a scavenging incident that has already taken place, to report it.

However, that is not the case in Nigeria, where authorised persons, including women and children, are allowed to rummage dumpsites and waste containers in the nation’s big cities such as Lagos, Ibadan, Onitsha, Aba and others searching for plastics and other materials.

A visit across major dumpsites in these cities depicted a gory picture of neglect by a government, which even encourages scavengers to rummage through the refuse unprotected.

According to an Onitsha resident, Emeka Aniagolu, it is not uncommon to see dead bodies in these dumpsites with their offensive odours, while government at all levels exhibit lackadaisical attitude to their existence.

Aniagolu, who lives near the popular Onitsha dumpsite, that has covered a section of the Owerri/ Onitsha Expressway, recently completed by the last administration, said the offensive odours emanating from Onitsha dumpsite, has forced many to abandon the road.

But a female scavenger in Onitsha said they were no longer bothered by the offensive odour.

According to her, it is not unusual to see decomposing corpse in the site but they always shift it and continue to search for plastic and metals, which they supply to some people for recycling.

The woman, who was introduced to the business by a friend after the death of her husband two years ago, said she normally makes between N1,500 and N3,000 a day but the revenue dropped when many people joined the business.

“I hope to leave scavenging when I get a better business. For now, it is one danger I have to live with”, she said

But a trader at Upper Iweka, Kanayo Oderigbo was more concerned with the traffic and environmental nuisance the dumpsite was causing residents and commuters in and around Onitsha.

According to him, Governor Willie Obiano should consider relocating the dumpsite because of environment and traffic reasons.

The situation is also not different in Aba, where the dumpsite is located along Port Harcourt Expressway.

A resident, who gave her name as Joy Amah said, residents were worried the dumpsite is allowed in a place where it would be causing serious traffic snarl along the express way.

In Lagos, the boom in scavenging was triggered by the volume of waste generated in the state estimated at over 9000 tonness of waste per day.

Scavengers also known as rag pickers now ransack the four major dumpsites across the state to source for used items that could be sold and recycled.

They reportedly believe so much in the business that they refer to waste trucks as consignments that bring in goods to be cleared.

But the Lagos State Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) in realisation of the importance of recycling, recently initiated support for Public/Private Partnership Participation and employment opportunity in resource recovery through the Waste to Wealth programme such as; nylon plastic recycling, kraft paper collection and buy back programme from scavengers.

Although, some of the qualified scavengers are now manning recycling banks sited at various parts of the state as resourced persons, just as the state government has adopted the 3 Rs: Reuse Recycle and Reduce strategy in waste management, a resident, Adewole Oni said scavenging is still a serious menace in the mega city that should be tackled.

“The government, he said, should not concentrate on the financial gains alone but adopt the San Diego’s option in order to safe guard the lives of children and women who are likely to go into scavenging”.

Also a health worker, who gave his name simply as Johnson, expressed worries over the attitude of government despite the health implication on the citizens.

According to him, it is worrisome to think that people wade through the dump side irrespective of the offensive odour.

Photo Credits: Bertram Nwannekanma

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