Why abattoirs in Nigeria pose a threat to health and the environment
Studies in Nigeria , Ghana and other developing countries have established that poor waste management is responsible for the environmental and health hazards associated with abattoirs.
The hazards have indirectly threatened or endangered the health of residents and the environment in general. This is because animal waste such as blood, bones, intestinal content, tissues, hides and skin are scattered in huge piles around the abattoirs.
In my research on the environmental and health hazards of abattoirs in Ibadan, I identified a number of reasons for this state of affairs. These included improper planning of abattoirs, illegal abattoirs, untrained slaughterhouse workers as well as butchers that are ignorant of sanitary principles.
Residents' continued susceptibility to the ill effects of these abattoirs are connected to poverty. The poor are less able to protect themselves from environmental hazards or respond to the health risks they face.
These issues have become more prominent and less attended to in Nigeria because of lack of institutional and regulatory frameworks.
Issues related to abattoirs pose challenges in many developing countries due to corrupt practices by government officials and unethical slaughterhouse workers.
Research has shown that it's not uncommon for abattoirs to dispose waste directly into streams and rivers. There's no disposal management or treatment system. And, the meat is also washed in the same water. This is true in Ghana as well as Nigeria , among others.
On entering most abattoirs in Nigeria, one immediately sees the glaring evidence of a failed and a broken system . This includes dilapidated slaughtering and processing facilities, inadequate clean water supplies, no refrigerators and lack of facilities for the collection and storage of waste. Proper sewage or waste disposal systems are also lacking.
My research focused on environmental hazards and health risk of residents who are neighbours to abattoirs in Ibadan, Oyo State. Data for the research was collected across the four seasons from 570 participants in neighbourhoods located within 300, 600 and 900 meters of the selected abattoirs.
I identified a number of areas which pose threats to the environment.
For example, waste generated in abattoirs is usually directed into rivers or the run-off gutters of adjoining buildings. This attracts flies and a stench that affects adjoining residences.
The waste water emanating from abattoirs pollutes surface and underground water as well as the air. The pungent stench forces neighbouring residents to shut their windows and doors, thus disallowing cross ventilation in homes.
The piled-up waste also causes air pollution , which subsequently produces methane gas that intensifies the greenhouse effect on global warming.
The waste is also responsible for environmental change, stigmatisation of residences and depreciation in the value of adjacent properties. The animal waste and waste water contribute to adverse health outcome .
As a result, abattoirs-related environmental and health hazards have become prevalent.
Residents expressed dissatisfaction with the location and the way abattoirs are managed. But they didn't wholly attribute their ill-health to the poorly managed waste and untreated waste water from the abattoirs.
Instead they thought that their ill-health was likely coming from several other sources.
But, during the individual and focus-group interviews, I noted that the perceived illnesses were contingent on the duration of their exposure to abattoir effluence, but not solely on their proximity to the abattoir.
Finding solutions to these issues is becoming increasingly difficult as abattoirs in residential areas proliferate.
Political decision making supersedes rational thinking in the siting of abattoirs in Nigeria. This is because leaders often only think of political gains when deciding where to site an abattoir, rather than a thorough assessment of its likely impact on the environment.
Another problem is that existing legislation in Nigeria emphasises the hygiene of slaughtered products. But it doesn't consider the operation, handling, and maintenance of the slaughterhouses themselves.
What needs to be done
To continue establishing abattoir haphazardly without environmental and health considerations only invites diseases – and potentially pandemics such as COVID-19.
Evidence-based responses need to be developed that would aid policymakers in implementing programmes designed to mitigate environmental and health hazards from abattoirs.
Firstly, mitigating these hazards will require the tightening of regulations and strict enforcement of environment-friendly sanitation practices. Top of the list would be methods of storage, disposal and transportation of animal waste.
Next, existing and future abattoirs must be appropriately classified. The categories should include: types of establishment, classes of solid waste, operational capacity and possibilities of generating hazards.
Lastly, Nigeria needs to introduce a modernised legislative framework. This can be used to guide the proper planning, design, construction, licensing and operation of abattoirs. Such a framework must meet international requirements and operate within statutory provisions to protect the environmental, public health and well-being of residents.
The framework must also specify what developments can, or can't, happen within the vicinity of abattoirs.
Dr. Dada Olanrewaju Timothy does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
By Dr. Dada Olanrewaju Timothy, Lecturer, Department of Urban and Regional Planning, Olabisi Onabanjo University, Ago-Iwoye, Nigeria, Olabisi Onabanjo University
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