For Babuji Ibrahim, a 35-year-old sanitation worker in Maiduguri, north-east Nigeria, a typical day is one spent evacuating solid human waste from latrines.
From internally displaced persons’ camps to host communities, Ibrahim who works with a UNICEF-supported vendor travels across city and village boundaries to de-sludge sewage and prevent the possible contamination of water sources.
Without prompt de-sludging and an effective disposal management system in place, deadly diseases can spread from water sources contaminated by overflowing latrines, especially in humanitarian settings with high population and congestion ratios. This has proved to be dangerous, especially for adolescents and children whose immunity is still developing.
In a situation report released last year by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), six states account for 84 per cent of cholera cases reported in Nigeria in 2022. Borno state, the epicentre of armed conflict in the northeast region, ranks high on the list.
“32 states and the FCT have reported suspected cholera cases in 2022. In the reporting month, six states reported 1,393 suspected cases: Borno (1,124); Gombe (165); Bauchi (61); Katsina (16); Adamawa (14); and Kano (13),’’ the report read in part.
Across north-east Nigeria, UNICEF, with support from the Nigerian Humanitarian Fund (NHF) is working with vendors for the prompt de-sludging of waste, thereby improving the well-being of some of the most disadvantaged children in the world.
In a situation report released last year by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), six states account for 84 per cent of cholera cases reported in Nigeria in 2022
Ibrahim typically evacuates 40 drop hole latrines in a day with each de-sludging process lasting three minutes after disinfection. With a pair of thick gloves, boots and a face mask, the young man has also learned to protect himself while working.
“The first thing to do is disinfect the latrines and the surroundings. That helps to make the smell bearable. I am always wearing protective gloves and boots and we are given milk to drink whenever we return to the office,”
“My work takes me to both IDP camps and host communities, but I prefer working in IDP camps because the need is glaring. The helplessness in IDP camps cannot be ignored. I know what I do there is helping to keep people healthy,’’ –Ibrahim
Ibrahim’s unique occupation does not come without its own challenges. During de-sludging, Ibrahim sometimes encounters materials other than solid waste. These include mosquito nets, plastic buckets, mats and even whole potties. Although not a widespread behaviour, Ibrahim says it is fairly common to see people turn latrines into dumpsites.
However, that is nothing compared to his biggest challenge – insecurity.
“I have colleagues who were killed by members of armed groups while on their way to de-sludge latrines in Pulka, a neighbouring community. That happened in 2019 and it just reminds us that we are still not out of the woods. I have also escaped an attack in 2020 during the COVID-19 lockdown. We were on our way to Damboa. Our truck was burnt by armed groups, and we escaped by the whiskers.
“Despite these challenges, I have persevered, first because I know that I am saving lives and because I also need to feed my family. I have not experienced another attack and I pray it will remain that way. This is my seventh year and I thank God that I am still here,’’ he says.