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Djibouti: An environmental disaster waiting to explode?

Thursday, May 02, 2013

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Anyone visiting Djibouti would testify that though it is a volcanic dessert, it still boasts an amazing and unique landscape, not to mention the 800km coastline.

On the day we arrived, it had rained the previous night so the city was flooded, and all kind of garbage could be seen floating on the streets, which usually have a filthy reputation.

After about a kilometre drive from the airport, garbage littering the streets greets you. The residents dump all kind of waste in most streets. Moreover, the stench emitted by the waste seems not to bother either the authorities or the city dwellers.

I am not trying to say that Kenya’s capital Nairobi would soon feature on the list of clean cities, however, Djibouti’s sanitation, drinking water and hygiene services got me thinking.

My guide even told me to avoid stepping on any wet surface since it was usually an open- urinal affair for men here.

The word hygiene is foreign here as we saw bread being transported in open trucks and sold unwrapped. In the shops, it is poured on the floor and no one cares to wash their hands before picking it up.

The shopkeeper takes money then picks up the unwrapped bread straight from the floor and tosses it to the buyer, who carries it comfortable under their arms or rather start eating it immediately.

I watched this procurement procedure in astonishment.

Respiratory infections

Though, it is only a few African countries like Kenya, Eritrea, Uganda and South Africa which have effected limited restrictions/ban on public smoking, in Djibouti it is a different tale as smokers have field days.

It is so normal for someone to light a cigarette and puff in a public service vehicle...a pointer to many passive smokers in the Horn of African nation.

Several studies notwithstanding, these smokers are not bothered by the presence of expectant mothers or children. Pregnant women exposed to second-hand smoke can have a greater risk of miscarriages or having babies with low birth weight, while children are at higher risk of getting sick because their developing lungs can easily be damaged.

According to WHO, acute respiratory infections account for 7 per cent of the total share of the disease burden in sub-Saharan Africa.

Throughout my stay in Djibouti, I never saw anyone detesting the cigarette smell, even though several studies have highlighted that passive smoke was poisonous and had over 4000 chemicals, including 50 that could cause cancer.

According to UNEP, these could cause breathing problems and irritation of the lung capillaries.

I cannot end without calling on the government to provide safe drinking water to the citizenry; Djibouti's tap water is very salty.

Perhaps the government or private sector could consider setting up water purification plant.

Messy or not, I cannot deny that the country still has its charm like the French colonial architecture on most buildings, though it would be great if the relevant authorities effected environmentally sound practices, starting with basic hygiene like encouraging citizenry to wash their hands before handling food.

Source: Africa Review

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