• Monday, July 22, 2024
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WASH, Buhari and lessons from Visionscape

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The spate of increasing global and national concern over the state of the environment has rapidly shifted the responsibility from government alone to a more consensus-based approach, where all stakeholders have a role to play in environmental protection. This ever-increasing awareness of the fragility of the biosphere in which we all live, coupled with a growing desire to get involved in its protection has given rise to the state of emergency recently declared, by Nigeria’s president Muhammadu Buhari, “on Nigeria’s water supply, sanitation and hygiene”. The president’s declaration is in line with the UNICEF’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene initiative generally known as WASH.

The UNICEF WASH programme advocates for universal, affordable and sustainable approach to managing health issues whilst contributing to an improvement in the number of people benefitting from improved water and sanitation facilities. The world Health Organization, in 2015, estimated that “1 in 3 people, or 2.4 billion, are still without sanitation facilities,” while 663 million people still lack access to safe and clean drinking water. Little wonder President Buhari’s declaration is coming on the heels of year of attacks leading to a waste crisis due to the beleaguered service contract Lagos signed with Visionscape Sanitation Solutions, which has been subject to alleged sabotage by ‘vested interests’.

The state of sanitation across the country necessitated the inauguration of the National Action Plan for Revitalization of Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene during the past week. In his resolution, President Buhari instructed “government at all levels to redouble efforts and work towards meeting the nation’s water supply and sanitation needs”. This development brings to the fore the need for a more sustainable approach in environmental protection.

READ ALSO: EU commissions water and sanitation facilities in Jigawa, Kano

18 months ago, the Lagos State Government developed a comprehensive ‘Cleaner Lagos Initiative’ (CLI) which was underpinned by an Environmental Law for the precise aim of opening up the sector to the desperately needed investment in infrastructure. Lofty aims which have since been truncated by the local political machinery of the State which is controlled by a significant and vocal group within the well-established “Private Sector Participant PSP- waste management scheme”.

The advent of incumbent Lagos State Governor, Akinwunmi Ambode’s administration recognized a need for a more sustainable system of waste management that transcended the mere collection and disposal services provided by the existing PSP operators. To this end, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions was contracted by the Lagos State Government to develop a world class waste management system under the CLI while also providing waste collection services, as well as the construction of the State’s waste management facilities, including the development of Nigeria’s first engineered landfill.

The scheme was to be scalable with a contract duration of ten years during which mobilization, augmentation, and stabilization periods were slated to span over two years while infrastructural upgrades, bin distribution, public awareness, assets and equipment acquisition, and other plans were gradually rolled out. In a lengthy exposé via their official Twitter page, Visionscape Sanitation Solutions explained the reason why none of these turned out as expected – a bitter court battle between PSPs and the new entrant, oft-repeated sabotage claims, and the infamous Olusosun fire in March 2018.

“So unlike other issues, we found out that tackling waste management required a significant amount of support in complicated political conditions’ reported a senior management member who spoke under the condition of anonymity” for example, what we were putting into the landfill was technology to minimise landfill usage – the plan was to introduce anaerobic digestion where organic waste would have been converted to much needed power to attempt to support the surrounding area. Environmental solutions must harness local realities and it has become evident that they will often require reverse engineering to suit and in fact, a key prong of our entrance was the gap we had identified between infrastructure provision and population growth.

The irony of course is that a multi-faceted environmental company that has already established a footprint and has also had a trial by fire in local politics may actually be in a position to work across the country in developing solutions for wastewater treatment, in particular which tends to be nexus of challenges in potable water supply. One wonders whether the appetite is still there after being made a political football by Ambode’s detractors?

Against this political chicanery, the fact is that the Visionscape led Municipality Waste Management Company Limited (MWMCL) were successful in a green bond – the first time a bond is not being tied to the ever-fluctuating oil price, thus making it the single biggest investment in the environment ever made in Nigeria. Other States need to realize this is a pioneer move that Lagos State has embarked on, one which they equally need to emulate. It is hoped that they will leverage on the strengths of similar schemes will making allowances for their political realities to enable a solution that will benefit their citizens.

 

PHILLIP AKINWALE

Akinwale is an environmentalist based in Lagos.