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Kano, Nigeria, Copes with Litter Problem

The northern Nigerian town of Kano produces almost 3,000 tons of garbage daily, but sanitation workers there can handle only 800 tons. The rest is piling up as backlog at collection centers and on the streets. From Kano, Isiyaku Ahmed has the story.

In Kano, refuse from over nine million people litters almost every street, vacant plot and pond.

Yan-Gurasa/Jakara is a neighborhood inside the city walls of Kano. It has one of the busiest roads in the municipal local government area – a road leading to the ancient Jakara market.

On a small vacant plot on one side of this road is a large heap of waste – industrial, commercial and household. The dust and smell from the garbage dump are terrible. Sometimes the refuse obstructs traffic.

During the rainy season, waterlogged areas around the neighborhood are a breeding place for mosquitoes and rodents. When the waste mixes with rain water, it can pollute nearby wells.

It is just one of hundreds of refuse dumps around the metropolis.

Kano environmentalist Ali Barau says the dumps are breeding site for mice, mosquitoes and other pests. He says the dumps pose a serious public health hazard, especially to children living in the area who pick up a variety of diseases while playing there. He says the government should help change people's attitudes with public education programs about garbage management, collection and disposal.

Engineer Hussam Musa Karry is the managing director at Refuse Management and Sanitation Board. The agency is responsible for the collection, management and disposal of waste in Kano.

"There is an "I don't care" attitude," he says: " 'Once it does not affect me, then it's none of my business,' and people begin to dump their refuse anywhere they want. Even if areas are being provided for the collection of waste, people don't respect that for one reason or the other."

Karry says his agency is working 18 hours daily to remove the refuse and to change bad habits. It's been organizing workshops and seminars to sensitize people in local government areas, communities and wards.

"For example," he says, "we are at Lokon makera [a neighborhood in Kano]assisting the community to conduct local programs on issues of waste management. Most of them were happy after the lecture we gave them, and they are [collecting the refuse] on their own. Before, they folded their arms and waited for government."

He says there is a general community clean-up on the last Saturday of every month. And residents are expected to clean their area and bring waste to designated collection points every day.

He says the state refuse agency has increased its work force from 300 to more than 3,600 and has purchased fifty new 10-cubic-meter trucks.

Engineer Karry says the state executive council is expected to approve a new regulations proposed by Kano state waste management. Among other things, they would ensure that state residents contribute to a generally clean environment. It would also authorize the state refuse agency and others to ensure that land and streets are kept clean of litter.

"We have laws on the ground now," he says. "We will try to educate people on each of the rules on what is expected to be followed by any person living in the city."

He says those who break the laws will be prosecuted.

"For example," he says, "A section of the law says, 'It shall be the duty of every owner or occupier to keep their premises clean and keep free from all overgrown weeds, filth, rubbish and refuse, from the street at the front, back, both sides and inside the premises.' "

It also says that no one shall leave waste in any street, gutter or open space without official approval.

With enforcement of the law and greater effort by the government, engineer Hussam Karry says there has been a gradual improvement in the attitude of people in the area about dumping waste at designated places, where it's been collected and disposed of appropriately.