Poor Sanitation Causes Animal Infertility [column]

THE STATISTICS on the sanitation status in Namibia released by Catarina de Albuquerque (UN Independent Expert on the right to the water and sanitation) and those cited virtually in all our news reporting media have left me puzzled and perplexed.

Only a small percentage of the rural and urban Namibian population has access to improved sanitation? This is a tragedy. There is nothing good I can narrate about poor sanitation. In fact, we all are conscious that defecation in an open area or bush does not just lead to excreta-related diseases such as cholera, typhoid, diarrhoea and dysentery, but also to gigantic environmental health concerns.

Namibia’s prospect for improved sanitation will remain gloomy until major strides are taken towards prioritising the development of this major public concern, which is long over due.

A Chinese man once said, “plans and priorities can always change, depending on the situation on the ground”. I think it is time for our government and everybody involved to change some of their priorities and make sanitation improvements as part of their top priorities.

In addition to home education, my Grade one teacher back in the early 90s clearly indicated that improving access to sanitation is not just a critical step towards reducing impact of prevalent excreta-related diseases in our country, but also helps create a physical environment that enhances safety, dignity and self-esteem. Undoubtedly, safety issues are particularly vital for women and children, who otherwise risk sexual harassment and assault when defecating at night and in secluded areas.

What might be new to many, is the impact of poor sanitation on sexually reproducing organisms including humans. However, particular reference will be given to fisheries resources (fish) in this article.

I guess, many of us are aware that aquatic systems remain the final destinations of either anthropogenic or natural contaminants released initially on land, atmosphere or directly into our water sources. Our aquatic systems (Kunene, Okavango, Orange, Zambezi, KwandoLinyantiChobe Rivers, amp our dams) are not just generally our water sources, recreational sites, but also remain as our main sources of food supply.

Meat as a source of protein is currently not economically accessible in Namibia. Toddlers may not know, but we parents know. Currently, the only option left is to effectively utilise our limited aquatic systems to bridge the supply and demand for protein, either through inland capture fisheries or aquaculture.

However, the future dependence on capture fisheries remains uncertain, since most of our fishing grounds, especially in rivers, have reached their maximum potential and aquaculture remains the only choice. Yes, Namibia is recited as a dry country however, it has a high absolute aantage on freshwater and marine aquaculture, which could be amongst the fastest growing animal food-producing sectors in the country. If well explored and managed, aquaculture can provide a significant number of jobs and create an essential component of integrated rural development, which other sectors can barely provide.

Now, to add on the list of the impacts of poor sanitation to humans and environment, contaminants including human feces that enter our aquatic systems are believed to contain compounds called endocrine disruptors (EDs), which are simply known as exogenous substances with the ability to interfere with the endocrine systems and hormonal activities of all animals, including fish.

The effects of EDs are thought to be especially critical at the larval or developmental stages of fish, disrupting sexual development, behaviours, and infertility. Many viable commercial and ecologically important freshwater fish stocks such tilapia, and catfish, which are widely distributed in Namibian rivers and dams may be threatened by the feminisation of male fish by a range of EDs and it is devastating to know that these compounds can mediate effects in fish at a very small concentration.

Now, imagine a country with a monosex population, meaning no reproduction, but only deaths, and this is exactly what can happen to our fish stocks that are exposed to contaminants. Consequently, the impacts of ED compounds in fisheries can be a threat to our national food security, aquatic biodiversity and ecosystems, quality and safety of our aquatic products, water quality, human and animals health concerns.

Accordingly, prioritising the improvement of poor sanitation conditions we suffered from for so many years in our country, will have direct and indirect synchronised benefits both to the citizens and their environment.

Catarina de Albuquerque also revealed that Okavango and Zambezi regions are the most severely affected by this public tragedy. More worrisome even, these are the same regions with perennial rivers, with indigenous peoples’ livelihood heavily dependent on fisheries resources for food and income. With already escalating population size in the two respective regions, it makes sense to anticipate copious social disasters in the next few years, if actions are not taken against this distress.

Yes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day”, so priority should be given in the order of the severely affected regions. Last but not least, I should say civilisation is continuous, and we can only succeed if somebody is accountable to keep the fire burning. Unfortunately, this is what our nation is lacking.

* Naphtal Gabriel is an aquaculture researcher in the Namibian Ministry of Fisheries and is residing in China. He is attached to the Wuxi Freshwater Fisheries Research Institute and is currently researching on the potential use of medicinal plants in fish farming.

Source : The Namibian