Nigerian man becomes internet sensation cleaning up world’s most polluted city
By Ized Uanikhehi and Chris Giles,*
Lagos (CNN)A Tweet of Nigerian man Christopher Anaekwe, 28, picking up trash recently went viral.
While a commendable, community-spirited deed, it’s not exactly the sort of act you’d think would get thousands of likes and shares.
However, the city Anaekwe lives in — Onitsha in southern Nigeria — has been labeled the most polluted on Earth. Many roads are smothered in waste. The air is thick with toxic pollutants (PM10).
Anaekwe had organized a group of teenagers to clear the trash-laden streets in their local neighbourhood. The action of community goodwill received plaudits on the internet.
“Onitsha is very dirty. I don’t think government is doing anything in the state to stop that,” Anaekwe told CNN. “The rate at which people are dumping refuse inside the gutters is very alarming.”
Anaekwe said he has always hated the dirty environment and has been searching for ways to tackle the waste issues in Onitsha.
The idea came to Anaekwe during his National Youth Service year, a compulsory one year development program university graduates in Nigeria are required to do.
As part of projects focused on the UN SDG (Sustainable Development Goals), he taught college students on the dangers of trash.
He decided to replicate a similar initiative in his hometown Onitsha and was able to (albeit with some resistance) convince young men to join him and clean the blocked gutters and drainages.
According to a report by WHO in 2016, Nigeria had four of the worst cities in the world for air pollution.
In Onitsha, a thriving port-city, 30 times the WHO’s recommended level of PM10 (particulate matter concentration) was recorded.
There have been efforts. In 2016, Nigeria pledged to ban dirty fuel imports from Europe.
Other initiatives like WeCyclers a social enterprise in Lagos, incentivize low-income households to sort and separate trash to be collected in return for points which can be cashed in for goods or money.
Despite a mountain of trash to climb, Anaekwe is determined to keep going.
He plans to write proposals to his state government: “I hope they will listen, this can be a way to generate employment in the state as there are lots of jobless youth here.”
“I did not expect the overwhelming feedback when I posted the pictures on facebook, I was shocked to hear that my name was going viral as a friend Chimezie Anajama had posted the pictures on twitter,” Anaekwe said.