Posted by: Wasrag | September 28, 2011

Nigeria – Part 1 (PPP Team member: William Stumbaugh)

I arrived in Abuja, the capital of Nigeria, on Wednesday and met up with my water teammates later in the day as they arrived.  We are five, four Americans (two California, one Colorado and one Virginia) and one Canadian.  Three engineers, one attorney and one educator. One woman and four men. Three Wasrag members, 1 former Ambassadorial Scholar, 1 Engineer from Engineers Without Borders – USA (EWB-USA)

The first two days we spent in Abjua contacting various Nigerians representing government agencies and non profit groups to learn more about water and sanitation policy. We had a good meeting with the staff of the national minister of water and sanitation which seem to have a comprehensive vision about where they want the country to go.

On Friday, we flew to Warri in the Niger Delta.  Warri is a town spread out over the lowlands, humid, hot and generally poor looking. The delta is a major petroleum center and the largest income source for Nigeria. Unfortunately, little of the wealth generated from the oil has remained in the delta, so poverty is widespread, and the disenchantment that comes with it.

Security is a major issue, and we have not yet been able to leave our hotel. In the past, there have been violent attacks on oil platforms and pipelines, tapping the pipelines to steal oil and kidnappings of oil company and foreign nationals.  After our plane landed and we were leaving the airport, we were stopped by ‘immigration’ fellows to check our paperwork, even though we just came off of a domestic flight.  These guys didn’t have any uniforms or badges and at first we thought they were con artists.  But they were legit, so we produced our passports, visas and letters of support.

We were scheduled to make our first visit to one of the rural villages that we are going to vet for a WASH project, but denied permission until our paperwork was checked and approved. Copies were made and submitted, and now we wait, hoping that we will have permission Monday to travel.

This scrutiny has been characteristic of our experience with Nigeria officialdom since we first applied for visas. Arriving in Abuja, neither our passports or the Nigerian visa stamped inside was sufficient to warrant entrance.  We had to pull out our letters of support written for our visa applications and answer lots of questions of why we there. This was all repeated upon landing at Warri.  It seems that the immigration permit system does not trust itself and much redundant checking is required.

Fortunately, we were able to invite several members of this community’s council to meet with us at our hotel yesterday to begin to get to know each other and discuss what we will need to know and learn while with them.  The group was very knowledgeable and previously completed a variety of other projects.  This first community has ample water being in a delta, but the river water is contaminated with both natural and human-produced elements-from parasites and viruses to petroleum from spills and sabotaged pipelines as well as human waste.
The community members said that while they needed to improve the water sources, it had no sanitation problem.  They said the village was kept clean of any open defecation which was not tolerated.  The community has build several groups of communal toilets units built over the river. A leader explained that the waste is washed out to the sea with the tide and the river flow.  They believe this system is appropriate.

The better drinking water comes from wells, but many of these may contain saltwater intrusion and some are significantly high in iron. As I said, we hope to visit their community tomorrow if security is approved.

Homes along the river

Nigeria has all the characteristics of a tropical country with the heat, humidity, fruit, and greenery found elsewhere.  It has rained every day thus far. We are staying in a Protea Hotel which has many modern conveniences. Protea is a South African chain and you can learn more at

Following is a draft of some possibilities which came out of the first meeting with the village leaders. It was written by a team member who is an engineer and former director of a community services district in California.  It is a draft only.




Wetlands Wastewater Treatment Potential in the Niger River Delta
Existing Conditions

Typical latrine built over the river

Open defecation is common in the Niger River Delta. Where public toilets are available, they are built over the river. Unfortunately, the river is also the place where people bathe. Fishing is also the major livelihood in the Delta and fecal waste contamination may pose a health issue. Because of the high groundwater, pit toilets are not workable. Elevated, composting toilets are also not an immediate solution for two reasons: 1) very little agriculture exists here on which to use the compost; 2) there is a phobia about using human waste in small gardens.
The thought arose that compost/fertilizer could be manufactured using a combination of composted human waste and fish byproduct/waste, and then packaged for sale elsewhere. This idea deserves further consideration.

Finally, the idea of wetlands treatment was considered. In this case, the toilets would be relocated to the top of a wetlands-style treatment train (or waste pumped to the wetlands from surrounding latrine facilities…but this would require an energy component that may or may not be affordable). From there, the waste would travel through the various stages of treatment by gravity, a design similar to that tested by NASA for the lunar and Mars colonies. The end product is effluent treated to tertiary levels, except for final disinfection. To give this process an economic push, the final effluent could be channeled to a fish farm so that the community could expand their economy by generating more fish than they could otherwise catch by traditional means. Other forms of aquaculture could be explored. The profits from this venture could be used to purchase flocculating chemicals and diesel fuel for the water wells and water treatment plants (which go unused in some communities because they don’t have the money to keep them running). The following are the pros and cons for a wetlands waste treatment system that might be considered in the Delta around Warri (and perhaps elsewhere).

1.    Mechanically simple
2.    Effective thru tertiary level
3.    End product has economic potential (e.g., fish farming)
4.    Inexpensive to build and maintain (need to build elevated treatment system for gravity flow on an otherwise flat terrain; an alternative is treatment ponds connected with low-head pumps (but added energy expense))
5.    Conducive to central treatment process with distributive collection system (would require energy for pumping and lift station storage)

1.    Heavy rainfall (May to November) may short-circuit the system (perhaps a cover over the system would protected it from flooding).
2.    Need to find and maintain proper flora and fauna balance, using species that are indigenous to the area)
3.    May need grit removal and/or primary treatment to avoid build-up of solids in the system. May be able to build flushing gates to remove solids on a periodic basis. With grit removal, solids disposal becomes a potential environmental and health problem.

Other Issues
1.    Is there an indigenous flora and fauna mix available in the delta (perhaps related to mangrove ecosystem) that would be conducive to this process?
2.    To what level does the system need to be elevated for gravity flow for the desired through-put (head vs. Q)?
3.    What is the proper size and through-put for the population served?
4.    Does the system need energy to run pumps if the latrines are located elsewhere. If so, other issues come into play, such as lift station storage during times when power is out.
5.    Fish farm operation profits may be used to offset water pumping and treatment costs: Will this cut into the economy of the existing fisheries industry for the community?
6.    Consider university scholarship(s) for student from the community to become a biologist who would have expertise in wetlands flora and fauna, fish farming (aquaculture), waste treatment, etc.

submitted by Bill Stumbaugh, PPP team member


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