IDPs: Poor Sanitation could become deadlier than Boko Haram
The cosmopolitan city of Lagos is probably the last place you will hope to find Internally Displaced People (IDP) in Nigeria. Those who flee conflict areas in the country usually find solace in neighboring states and Lagos is over 1000 km from any conflict zone.
But there are displaced people living in Lagos – many of whom are fleeing their homes in Yobe and Borno States after attacks from Boko Haram terrorists. They are living in small camps spread across Lagos and from the look of things, their lives are not safe In Lagos either. It is like moving from the proverbial frying pan to the fire.
This time they are not facing men with guns but affliction and diseases. It has not started yet, but all the major precursors are in place.
The largest of these camps is at Happy Home Avenue in Kirikiri town, a coastal community in Apapa area of Lagos. Even as you approach the area, you get hit by a heavy stench of human waste and rotten food. You will not believe you are in Lagos when you see the vicinity. You will have to look carefully while walking through there. You never know what you might step on.
There is no road or foot path. It is just one long stretch of dump. Discarded nylon and paper pave the road. Just by this large pile of dirt are tents made of wood, nylon and repurposed polythene bags. There you will see women and children and even able bodied men just sitting around, whiling away time.
Despite the filth they live in, one cannot help but sympathise when you learn about the conditions that brought them there in the first place. Explaining how she ended up living in the Apapa dump site is Shaada who explains that her village in Borno was invaded by Boko Haram and her husband was killed in the process. She decided to come to Lagos to live with her sister who is also an IDP at in Apapa. She has been living there now for eight months.
Similar story many of them had, as they were all happy to share their horror stories in the hands of Boko Haram. However, because there is nowhere else to go does not mean they should be living in an epidemic waiting to happen.
Ier Ichaver worked seven years at the United Nations Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF). Her last posting was at UNICEF Geneva, Switzerland where she provided global advisory and training support to UNICEF offices in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and the Middle East on corporate alliances and fundraising. Prior to working with UNICEF Geneva, Ier had worked with UNICEF Nigeria and the Centre for Values in Leadership.
Ier is now the Executive Director at Sesor, an NGO she founded. Recently, she was at another IDP camp in Lekki, Lagos. Somehow, she had convinced International Media giant, Viacom to join her in a sanitation exercise at the camp. Together, along with the displaced people themselves, they cleaned up the surroundings of the camp. They also had small classes for children in the camp where they teach them simple hygiene methods. According to her, the unsanitary conditions these people are living in pose a grave danger.
“It is a sad case to see people living in such state. They are running away from death but now they are living in less than human conditions. It is very important that their sanitation is taken care of. That is what we are trying to do. I know there is a lot the government should do for them, but there are little things they can do for themselves as well,” said Ichaver.
Also confirming the health risk the dirty surroundings of the IDP camps pose is Seki Ayeyemi, a health worker with Change A Life, another NGO based in Lagos. “Living in such conditions can be more harmful to them on the long run. They have no access to clean water, their environment is dirty, there is an open sewer flowing by the side. All these are recipe for disaster. You can already see that some of the children have skin diseases. They need to be relocated from there or at least get then clean water,” says Ayeyemi.
Such living conditions have in the past been implicated in the transmission of many infectious diseases including cholera, typhoid, infectious hepatitis, polio, cryptosporidiosis, and ascariasis. Pneumonia, worm infestations, are also associated with unsafe water, poor sanitation and hygiene resulting in reduced physical growth, weakened physical fitness and impaired cognitive function, particularly for children under the age of five.
We tried to reach the government of Lagos State on the issue but have been met by a brick wall. A staff of the State Ministry of Health who spoke in confidence, disclosed that the IDPs and their living conditions are not in the government’s agenda for now.
The state has however tried numerous times to get these squatters out of Apapa but they keep returning to the place.
Like Ayeyemi said, “something solid should be done about IDPS camps not only in Lagos but all across the country. They should put in place measures to ensure proper sanitations at these camps. If not done, there will be bigger problems than Boko Haram.”