17 Nov
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Addressing climate change by promoting a clean environment in the developing world

The significant effects of an unhealthy environment are not just global, they are personal and its impact on our health interacts in several ways. While climate change has been well acknowledged as a global human health issue, for many of us who live in the developing world, we are equally faced with a huge burden of unhealthy surroundings owing to indiscriminate dumping of refuse.

Sanitation and hygiene are a cheap preventive public health measure. Yet each year, 0.6 million children under the age of 5 die of diarrhoea caused by poor hygiene and unsanitary conditions. Despite progress in human development, addressing filthy environments is yet to be given the needed attention on a global scale. We are just not talking about it enough to find a lasting solution. Even when hygiene and sanitation is being addressed by governments and developmental agendas, the focus is often on providing clean water and decent toilet facilities. Yet garbage dumping in public places, open refuse disposal in flowing waters, throwing empty cans around, etc, are still widely practised. The scenes shown here are but a glimpse of the extent to which our environment has been polluted in some developing nations. Unfortunately, too often, whenever I ask someone not to litter, I get a reply that since the surroundings are already dirty, throwing more trash won’t make a difference.

According to Grid Arendal, in addition to helping to save energy, waste prevention and recycling help address global climate change by decreasing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions. Most materials found on garbage heaps do not get recycled and some of the component materials emit greenhouse gases and contribute to global warming. Others contain harmful chemicals which pollute the environment and become breeding grounds for mosquitoes, rats, and flies, with consequent disease proliferation.

Although extreme weather and increased precipitation has been attributed to climate change, resulting in increased flooding, indiscriminate littering of surroundings is a major cause of blocked drainage in most developing communities, with resultant effect of flooding, the impact of which would be minimal by having clean surroundings.


While many people are still ignorant of the health consequences of indiscriminate littering of the surroundings, barriers such as inadequate refuse bins in private and public places, non-recycling of used materials, and a lack of leadership from governments are some of the hindrances to proper and effective refuse disposal.

In spite of the damages done and long silence in time past, huge hope remains. Awareness raising can be achieved by using old and new media as well as engaging youths, community, and religious leaders as change agents to attain the clean environment we all deserve.

However, government and charity cannot solve the problem alone. We need to make the clean-up of filthy surroundings in the developing world into a great business opportunity. Clear filth, build decent toilet facilities, go green, cut down green gas emission, and make the world a better place for everyone.

This post was written by Isaac Ejakhegbe and first posted In Lancet Global Health (UK)

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