Improper waste disposal and its effects on our health

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UTG Medical Students Association By Anthony R Jatta. [email protected] My name is Anthony R Jatta, a second year medical student at The University of The Gambia. It is my first time writing an article on this prestigious paper and I hope it will be helpful to all readers. When we talk about “Improper waste disposal and its effect on our health”, the first thing that comes to mind is refuse disposal. There is more to this because waste can come in different forms depending on the materials present. Before going further, I would like to give a basic definition of waste: Waste as we may know simply refers to unwanted or unusable items, remains, or by products, and household garbage. Improper waste disposal therefore, means the disposing of these unwanted or unusable items, remains, or by products, and household garbage in an inappropriate or unlawful manner. It is quite disappointing that a lot of people in The Gambia are involved in this act which of course has an ill effect on our environment and our general well-being. For it is said “the environment in which you live in, determines what kind of sickness or infection you acquire” so therefore if we reside in environments in which we do not manage and dispose our wastes in the most appropriate methods, the effects will certainly come back to us. One of the most common improper disposals of waste is refuse disposal. Refuse simply refers to garbage which mostly includes decomposable food waste and rubbish is mostly dry materials such as glass, paper, cloth, or wood. Refuse disposal is one of the most prominent improper waste disposal methods in the country and it surely produces an adverse effect on the health of the people in affected areas. Most refuse disposal areas in our communities are located within areas that are inhabited by people. Because the country doesn’t have waste recycling plants in these waste disposal areas, the best method taken to reduce the ever increasing supply of refuse is burning. Although burning helps a long way to do away with the refuse, its health impacts and main disadvantage on the affected communities is usually conspicuous. It is obvious that most refuse disposal sites are located within communities and when the dumped refuse is burnt, huge smokes can be seen rising and going into the vicinity. This is one of the most dangerous and large scale improper waste disposal because the smokes from the burning refuse produces toxic gases which are mostly carcinogenic (cancer causing) and can affect a whole community depending on their proximity to the dump site. Refuse disposal sites found in communities can also pose a health and environmental threat to the community. Because the refuse is composed of different materials some of which are toxic and when those toxins leak into the ground, they poison the underground water. This makes the water contaminated and unsafe for drinking. Street dumping is another form of refuse disposal in which people throw their waste in the streets instead of allocated areas. Street dumping has been on increase as businesses and activities of people are on the rise. Street dumping has become so rampant that people go to the extent of throwing waste in water ways (gutters). When the water ways are filled with waste, blockages occur in the channels which will not allow the water to flow or in events of heavy rains, cause the reverse or redirection of the water into our neighborhoods. This action has been one of the causes of flooding and inundation in our communities which leads to less/no movement in the water ­ (stagnant water). Now what are the health effects of such events? Malaria is an infectious disease caused by a one-celled parasite known as Plasmodium. The parasite is transmitted to humans by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. In order for these mosquitoes to continue their cycle of reproduction, they need moist or watery environments to lay their eggs. In this case, the stagnant water provides a breeding ground for the mosquitoes which will in turn lead to an increase in the population of the mosquitoes. An increase in the population of the mosquitoes leads to an increase in the number of malaria cases in our communities and this can cause a lot of harm to the people we love for we know how malignant malaria can be when it gets to the chronic level. Another common improper disposal of waste mostly practiced in our households is sewage disposal. Sewage mainly consists of human faeces and urine. There are quite a number of ways in which sewage can be disposed, one of which is commonly used in our communities is a “pit latrine”. A Pit latrine, also known as pit toilet is a type of toilet that collects human faeces in a hole in the ground. Although they are one of the cheapest forms of basic sanitation, pit latrines might be dangerous to our environment and as well our health if they are not built according to the required environmental standards. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that pit latrines be built at reasonable distance from the house, balancing issues of easy access against the smell. Pits should not be dug too deep into the ground to decrease or avoid the risk of ground water pollution and distance from water wells and surface water should be considered. When pit latrines are built without putting to consideration the required recommendations, it might pose a danger to the health of the people around it. Take for instance cholera a disease caused by the bacterium vibrio cholerae usually found in water contaminated by faeces. It is mostly common in places with poor sanitation where people build pit latrines close to a water source. This may lead to contamination of the water and when consumed by individuals might transfer bacterium like vibrio cholera which causes cholera. These are some of the most common improper waste disposals we see within our various neighborhoods. In order to avoid them, certain measures should be taken to eliminate the hazards. Some of these measures include the siting of refuse dumps, sewage works and factories far away from houses. They should be sited where prevailing winds does not carry unpleasant smells and smoke over the communities. Although our country is less fortunate in terms of waste recycling plants and waste management in general, people should not take this as an excuse to throw waste wherever they want. Many a time, you see drivers throwing litter from their vehicles on to the road, street vendors cleaning and gathering their litter then dump it into the water ways and not forgetting the pedestrians who also drop papers, plastic bags etc on to the streets. People have to realize that all the small litter we throw: on our way going to work, school and back home, this waste can accumulate to greater amounts and cause an environmental threat which can lead to a health effect. It is up to us to make it known to ourselves and advocate for a cleaner and healthier environment, where waste is managed and disposed in the most appropriate and proper methods.]]>

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