By James, Michael Igiri
There is a strong link between the poor environmental conditions of the slum areas and their health.
This was a cumulative result of findings from a myriad of researches carried out by Prof. Immaculata Nwokoro of the department of Urban and Regional Planning, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, University of Lagos.
Prof. Nwokoro, who is the first female professor of the department, explained during an inaugural lecture- titled, Cascading myths of Environmental Health: Planning for the Poor and Vulnerable groups in Nigeria’s Urban Areas- that health inequalities are strongly patterned and that those patterns are very persistent.
“Putting health therefore, at the centre of planning strategies will produce many synergies and this will make healthy communities to be sustainable communities,” she said.
“Migration has largely been responsible for growth in urbanisation and this reached considerable proportion. The proportion of Nigerian population living in urban cities have been on the increase since 1985 and projections from the current 47.8% to 55.3% in 2025 indicate a steady growth. However, planners are faced with current challenges which are global and domestic in nature and must therefore embrace the new urban agenda.”
She noted, “Although urban living is often associated with higher levels of literacy and education, better health, greater access to social services, and enhanced opportunities for cultural and political participation, the regions of the world with the fastest growing urban populations are also the regions with the highest proportions of slum dwellers. Urbanisation therefore, has a determinant of health and poverty leads to slum formation.”
The former Acting head of department stated that some of the contributory factors resulting in the formation of slums in Nigeria include scarcity of lands, services and security of tenure, neglect of buildings and their environment which makes them become derelict and brings about rapid physical determination.
“Another challenge of the slum dwellers is that not much is known about their health, the informal nature of slum settlements, as well as the cultural, social, and behavioural factors unique to slums populations,” She added.
“These key features of slum settings have profound and varying impacts on the health status and outcomes for slum residents at the different stages of life course. Some factors which have been identified by WHO that affect health in slums are economic conditions, social conditions, the living environment, access and use of public health care services, rapid mobility, double burden of diseases, overcrowding and related health issues, outbreaks of diseases transmitted through respiratory and faeco-oral route due to increased population density, water and sanitation problems.”
The inaugural lecturer informed the public that her most significant contributions to knowledge were in the areas of access to improved water sources and sanitation methods as well as waste disposal methodologies, drainage conditions and indoor air pollution which, in her words, “are factors peculiar to the Nigerian environment.”
She further iterated that, although there seemed to be a gradual improvement in accessibility to safe water, it was important to note that while figures for piped water to premises decreased from 33% in 1990 to only 6% in 2013 in Nigeria, those for other improved sources increased from 45% to 73% within thesame survey period.
This, according to her, then, “means that more individuals and private organisations are now responsible for their own water provision. It appears government can no longer meet up with this social responsibility.”
The seasoned scholar, also stated that the UN Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), metamorphosed into Sustainable Development Goals (SGGs) due to the inabilities of various governments of the world- including Nigeria- to meet the set target at the projected time.
“Despite the enormous progress and success recorded globally, many developing countries still did not achieve these set goals and targets, thus finding their way back as part of the SDGs, a new set of goals to sustain the momentum generated by the MDGs and also fit into global development framework.” She noted sadly.
She therefore recommended a synergy between public health and urban and regional planning where health professionals engage in the urban planning arena, involved from the design stage, participation in zoning decisions and serving on urban planning boards, and incorporating health into urban planning decision-making. “This renewed integration us essential in restoring and enhancing the health and vitality of the nation’s places and people.”
Prof. Nwokoro suggested a new approach to developing the recently demolished and reclaimed Iwaya slum (around the university community). She proposed an Iwaya scheme that would consist of multi-storey staff apartment units (BOT) on well prepared and holistic Layout Plan and some of the other designated uses of the university Master Plan.
“This will reduce the staff accommodation shortage on campus and improve the health and well-being status of majority of the lower cadre staff who commute very long distances to work daily…This will also create a friendlier and healthy environment to replace what exists in this neighbourhood presently,” she concluded.