The New Humanitarian Annual Report 2021

  1. Home
  2. Africa
  3. West Africa
  4. Nigeria

Kano - Why so dirty?

Boys rummaging through heap of refuse for recyclable items.
(Aminu Abubakar/IRIN)

Nigeria’s commercial capital in the north is creating more refuse than it can handle.

“The challenges are enormous," Garba Yusuf, Kano environment commissioner, told IRIN. “This is the most disturbing environmental problem we are facing."

Of the 2,000 tonnes of garbage Kano produces every day, sanitation workers can dispose of only 800, he said.

The remaining 1,200 tonnes are piling up on the streets and alleyways of the city, posing serious health risk to Kano -- one of Nigeria's most populous cities with more than five million inhabitants.

People have no choice but to dump on the streets outside their homes and on any unused space in their neighbourhoods including open sewers and ponds.

“In a few years all the ponds in the city will be filled,” Lukas Buba, an environmentalist at Bayero University in Kano told IRIN. “The city is already so dirty now. Imagine what it will look like then."

In poor neighbourhoods children play on rubbish heaps or are sent by parents to rummage through the piles for recyclable items.

“Children that frequent refuse dumps stand greater risk of contracting diseases, especially poliomyelitis,” said Ibrahim Musa, a doctor in the federal government-run Aminu Kano Teaching Hospital.

He said that the rubbish also exposes the general population to serious diseases “When the wind blows it carries germs along with it and deposits them on uncovered food and water,” he said. “This accounts for the high rate of typhoid fever, cholera and diarrhoea cases we treat in [Kano] hospitals."

Photo: Aminu Abubakar/IRIN
vehicles passing by a refuse heap that has taken over a part of the road on a Kano street

Blame the people or the government

“Our people have no culture of refuse disposal,” Hassam Musa Kari, the managing director of Kano’s Refuse Management and Sanitation Board (REMASAB), the agency responsible for cleaning the city.

He attributed the problem to illiteracy. “People don’t seem to know or care about the dangers refuse poses to life and the environment," Kari told IRIN.

But residents more often blame REMASAB and the environment ministry. "The authorities have not provided us with adequate [dump] sites," Salisu Ahmad, a resident, told IRIN.

Residents say that even in areas where there are dumps the trash often fills up and overflows into the street.

The problem is worst in Kano’s cramped old city with its labyrinth of alleys and recesses. “Our only option is to take our garbage and dump it by the road”, Buhari Dan-Malam, a resident of Kulkul old of oldest parts of the city. “REMASAB either takes it or leaves it.”

Failed Measures

In recent years the government tried to resort to the tradition of using donkeys to collect refuse. But that failed when the state tried to purchase 500 donkeys for the job.

“It was a weird and absurd idea,” Igiri West, an environmental activist in the city, told IRIN. Many people said it would be a waste of city funds as the donkeys would have to be fed and housed. “So the idea was dropped,” he said.

Many sanitation plans for the city have failed before they even began. Six years ago the state set up a waste recycling company called WASCO for converting refuse to fertiliser and bio-fuel but the effort collapsed even before the company got up and running after it was forced to privatise.

In 2005 an agency established by the federal government to change people’s mentality -- the Societal Re-orientation Directorate -- initiated a project called ‘polythene is wealth’. It set up a small recycling plant and employed local boys to collect used plastic bags on the streets for a fee.

“We paid them 20 naira (US 2 cents) for every kilo of used bags they collected," Bala Mohammed, head of the directorate said. “But for a city that produces hundreds of tonnes of plastic bags a day, collecting a few kilos changed nothing.”

The project ran for just one year until it was transferred to REMASAB and then died, he said.

The many failures have spurred Mohammed and his team to come up with a new public-private partnership called ‘the Clean City Initiative', which aims to mobilise communities to clean their own neighbourhoods for a monthly stipend.

“We have realised that we must involve the communities in this war against refuse,” Mohammed said. “We will supervise and monitor the project for a year and then transfer it to the environment ministry.”


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information:

Share this article
Join the discussion

Right now, we’re working with contributors on the ground in Ukraine and in neighbouring countries to tell the stories of people enduring and responding to a rapidly evolving humanitarian crisis.

We’re documenting the threats to humanitarian response in the country and providing a platform for those bearing the brunt of the invasion. Our goal is to bring you the truth at a time when disinformation is rampant. 

But while much of the world’s focus may be on Ukraine, we are continuing our reporting on myriad other humanitarian disasters – from Haiti to the Sahel to Afghanistan to Myanmar. We’ve been covering humanitarian crises for more than 25 years, and our journalism has always been free, accessible for all, and – most importantly – balanced. 

You can support our journalism from just $5 a month, and every contribution will go towards our mission. 

Support The New Humanitarian today.

Become a member of The New Humanitarian

Support our journalism and become more involved in our community. Help us deliver informative, accessible, independent journalism that you can trust and provides accountability to the millions of people affected by crises worldwide.