Interview With Saihou Njie on Waste Management

Tuesday, January 6, 2009
Health Matters caught up Saihou Njie, lecturer at the School of Medicines and allied health Sciences at the University of The Gambia on the Importance of Health Management and managing waste. This is what the ….. had to say:

I graduated from Muslim School in 1981 as a pure science student. In March 1982, I started working as a surveyor at the Department of Water Resources. I worked in the Swamp Rehabilitation Division and I was responsible of mapping ricefieldsmainly in the

Western Region. In 1987 our division was moved to the Soil & Water Management Unit, Department of Agric Services. I became a conservation Assistant until December 1991, when I left for the USA to study for an associate degree in agriculture. While in the USA, I pursued a BSE degree in Agriculture and due to my performance, the USAID extended my scholarship to four years instead of 2 years.

In December 1994, I graduated with BSC in Agriculture from the Eastern Kentucky University.

I returned home in January 1995, even though I had one more year left on my scholarship.I became an agricultural officer from 1995 to 1996. In 1997, secured a commonwealth scholarship to study a masters degree in University of Cantubury New Zealand. I studied water resources engineering for one year and completed the masters of engineering in management degree. I specialised in environmental management systems. I returned home in March 1999. In November 1999 I started working at NEA on secondment as a programme officer,environmental quality. In 2001 started lecturing at the University of The Gambia as a part-time lecturer. In 2006 I became the research& developmentmanager at NEA, a post I held till March 2008. I am now a full time lecturer at the school of Medicine Allied health Science, Department of Public and Environmental Health.

HM: What are you lecturing at the moment?

Mr. Njie: I am lecturing waste management.

HM: Mr. Njie, what is your view in the significance of waster management in the socio-economic development of The Gambia?

Mr. Njie: Waste is a very complex issue and therefore it needs a serious and genuine approach. I believe that since thedeclaration of the OCN many people have realised the inextricable link between waste managementand the development of this country. However, I still believe that there is a lot more to be done for every Gambiam to see this linkage as clearly as the president.

To explain this linkage, I would narrate a real encounter while I was at the senior programme officer at NEA. I was invited to talk to community leaders of the KMC on waste management. During the lecture, an old woman said that KMC doesn’t collect waste from their area and therefore, they decided to dump the waste in an old well that was in their compound and now the well is full. She was doing the best thing. When I explained the issue of ground water pollution that could result from dumping waste in an old well, she challenged me saying, “why did you not tell me earlier?” Instantly I felt guilty. I am stillhaunted by the old woman’s words. To come back to your questionwaste, nowadays is a complex cocktail of so many things. Some of these are very hazardous to health. There is the issue of batteries which contain heavy metals such as calmium, mercury and lead plusother second hand electronic products that also contain highly hazardous components. Whenthesehazardous chemicals get into ground water, surface water and air they can have serious health impacts. Some of these chemicals can persist in the environment for long periods ranging from days to several years. When waste is not managed in an environmentally sensible manner the quality of our environment will deteriorate.

Let me give you an example, tourists come to The Gambia for sun and beaches. What would be the impact if our coastal water become polluted?

The Gambiabeing among the most densely populated countries in Africa, will be more negatively affected by the impacts of poor waste management. Mercury for example can have serious impacts of the IQ of children whose mothers are exposed to it even at small quantities. What will be the impact if our children havelowIQ’s? There are so many mercury containing products in our waste stream and the inappropriate disposal of such things, by burning or dumping in s, beaches …. Etc can have seriousimpacts of the socio-economic development of this country.

There are so many linkages that it is not possible for me discuss all in detail now. However, I must say that our visionary leader, HE President has seen this link clearly that is why he established the operation clean the nation five years ago. I wish every Gambian can realise this and work genuinely on the issues.

Source: Picture: Saihou Njie