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Story Publication logo September 6, 2023

City Life and Disease Intersect in Lagos



A global health reporting project to understand how poorly designed drainage systems lead to...


An aerial view of the mainland area in the city of Lagos. Image by Precious Williams. Nigeria, 2023.

Coming back home to Lagos, Nigeria, to report on the intricate story of the intersection between the environment and public health, I stumbled upon a fascinating occurrence. During my visits to 10 local governments and more than 15 sites, it became apparent that Lagos residents living through a malaria epidemic in the big city were at the mercy of their neighbors.

In various spots around the city, abandoned lands owned by unprepared landowners sat unused, overgrown with weeds, and littered with waste. When rain gathered in these neglected spaces, it became a breeding ground for malaria-carrying mosquitoes.

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These breeding sites are near residential homes, whose residents have no choice but to endure the health effects of living in proximity to such undeveloped land.

The presence of overgrown weeds in abandoned lands situated close to residential homes in Lagos. Image by Precious Williams. Nigeria, 2023.

During interviews about these issues, residents expressed a sense of helplessness, as they had little control over the situation and felt powerless. These residents continue to periodically battle mosquitoes and malaria because of another individual’s neglect of their land.

The power of land use control and refuse management legally rests on the Ministry of Environment and local government bodies, which do not have proper regulatory systems in place.

Vacant land turned into a dumping site where dirt and stagnant water have accumulated into the nearby compound. Image by Precious Williams. Nigeria, 2023.

Furthermore, contributing to this problem is the non-uniform adherence to urban regulations in residential building construction. While some houses have proper drainage, the next house—which may be closer to the main roads—might lack this essential infrastructure. During rainfall, accumulation of water on the street might persist due to a blockage of drainage paths by homes without drainage, affecting everyone in the vicinity.

There were also notable instances of homes channeling their wastewater into street potholes, exacerbating the problem of broken roads, which could lead to vehicular and motorbike accidents.

Water flowing from home in Oworoshoki, Lagos - without proper drainage led into street potholes, further deteriorating the road. Video by Precious Williams. Nigeria, 2023.

This captivating communal phenomenon serves as a reminder of why "population health" (the health of a group of people) requires a united community effort and should not be isolated. Both individual responsibility and collaborative community input are essential to maintaining a healthy environment.

As urban expansion in Lagos continues, enforcing strict structural regulations for construction and building maintenance becomes imperative. Ultimately, ensuring accountability among all members of society is crucial for the prosperity and well-being of the people.


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