Relocating Borno’s Internally Displaced Persons to structures constructed with corrugated iron sheets could expose them to meningitis, heat stroke and respiratory distress, experts have warned.
They said living in structures built with zinc and draped with tarpaulin could expose occupants to dangerous weather conditions capable of triggering debilitating health conditions.
The warning comes on the heels of Borno State Government’s decision to construct 1,000 houses for internally displaced persons in Damasak, head town of Mobbar Local Government Area.
Damasak has experienced disruptive years of banditry and Boko Haram insurgency, leading to the displacement of hundreds of residents.
According to the Federal Commissioner of the National Commission for Refugees, Migrants and IDPs, Basheer Mohammed, the structures comprise of 1,000 housing units.
Mohammed, who represented Kano Central from 2011 to 2015 at the National Assembly, stated via his Twitter handle @BasheerGarbaMoh that he had been working tirelessly to ensure that the refugees are resettled.
The “Resettlement City Rehabilitation and Reintegration Project” are to be sited in four states, Mohammed added.
He had tweeted the photographs, explaining that he and Governor Babagana Zulum made a stopover at the project site on their return to Maiduguri sometime last week.
According to a Daily Trust report earlier in the year, Borno State Commissioner of Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Resettlement, Mustapha Gubio, said apart from roads, drainage, and high voltage transformers, the estate has provision for school, hospital, boreholes, fire service station, mini market, offices for Civilian JTF, vigilante and hunters, plus offices for housing and water management officials.
The newspaper reported that Gubio, during the foundation laying ceremony of the 1,000 Housing Estate, said it was “targeted at relocating the over 89,000 IDPs presently occupying schools and other government premises in Monguno.”
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“He revealed that the housing facility, expected to cost the government over N5bn, will be completed within six-month period, while the school project will cost about N75m and is expected to be completed within a period of three months,” the medium had reported on February 6.
In interviews with PUNCH HealthWise, a Structural Engineer, Samson Okoli, said those expected to occupy the structures risk being exposed to extreme weather conditions that could impact their health negatively.
According to WorldData.info, Borno is one of the warmest regions in Nigeria, with an average daily high temperature of 34 degrees centigrade.
The research and data platform noted that with a yearly average of 34 degrees, it is year-long warm or hot.
Okoli said before constructing mass housing units, safety and health factors must be put into consideration.
He noted that people are looking for low-cost housing and that quickly constructing one, especially for internally displaced persons, using zinc roofing sheets could readily be seen as easy and cheap.
He, however, said the health implications for the IDPs quite outweigh the benefits, as they would be prone to pneumonia, heat stroke, extreme dehydration and mosquito infestation.
“There is nothing to act as a barrier to the elements, not even the tarpaulin,” Okoli warned.
Continuing, he said, “The whole structure is constructed with roofing sheets, which is very permeable and can’t protect these vulnerable people from the hot and cold extreme weather conditions obtainable in the north.
“The inside would either be too cold during harmattan, or like a hot box during the dry season.
“There is no way to regulate the temperature, unlike houses built with blocks or bricks, where the walls can easily absorb the elements. They can’t be comfortable in such a place,” the expert said.
Okoli pointed out that such a living arrangement provides no form of protection to the IDPs, and would further leave them at the mercy of insurgents.
“I have worked in the northern part of the country and I’m familiar with the history of banditry and Boko Haram insurgency in Borno State.
“Such accommodation can’t protect or give them any sense of security because it is easy to rip open.
“Psychologically, it is not ideal, as it could make them become agitated due to the traumatic war-like situation they have been exposed to.”
Describing the characteristics of a zinc structure, he said, “A zinc roofing sheet can generate noise because it is thin metal. Despite being covered with tarpaulin, if someone taps on it accidentally, it can alarm and make those inside agitated.
“They would always be on edge because of the trauma they have been exposed to. They need to be in a house to feel safe, not in a contraption constructed with roofing sheets and tarpaulin.”
In his own response, a Health and Safety professional, Engr. Hassan Hassan, said homes constructed with zinc roofing sheets are prone to corrosion that can lead to leakages.
He noted that there could be fast structural deterioration due to water percolation, adding that the interior could provide atmosphere for mould to grow, leading to health complications.
According to WebMD, mould accumulates in damp and poorly ventilated buildings; noting that inhaling mould fragments or spores can inflame the airways, causing nasal congestion, wheezing, chest tightness, cough and throat irritation.
“Prolonged exposure to high levels of indoor dampness can reduce lung function and cause chronic health problems such as asthma.
“Those who already suffer from asthma and allergies are more likely to have more severe symptoms when exposed,” Hassan warned.
The World Health Organisation said a considerable proportion of the world’s 300 million cases of childhood asthma is attributable to exposure to indoor dampness and mould.
The global health body noted that people living in damp and mouldy homes also risk depression, which, in turn, may increase the risk of respiratory symptoms and asthma.
Hassan, who is also a specialist member, International Institute of Risk and Safety management, said there could be danger of electrocution and fire hazard, as water could easily go into wires and sockets.
“There is also the possibility of insect infestation and fall hazard as water could be present on the floor.
“Zinc is very light and can be easily blown away by a windstorm, if not properly installed,” he added.
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