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Rio+20 challenge: seeking sanitation in the slums of Lagos, Nigeria

As more and more Nigerians flood into Lagos in search of jobs and opportunities, the sanitation system is badly under strain.

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A woman sells plastic bags on a street in Lagos, Nigeria. At 15 million people and growing fast, Lagos is expected to overtake Cairo as Africa’s largest city.

Lekan Oyekanmi/AP/File

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With his briefcase and pointed animal-print shoes, Godfrey Achionye looks every bit like the popular actor that he is from Nollywood, Lagos's famous film industry.

But at home, Mr. Achionye must share a squat toilet and bucket bath with three other families. To get to work, he navigates sewage-flooded streets in Ajegunle, Lagos's largest slum, which offers all-important proximity to the hectic city's economic opportunities but little in terms of proper shelter and sanitation.

Just crossing the road is hard work. Residents and visitors hop from rock to rock, walk along stubby brick walls, or jump over pools of black water that flow into the streets from open sewers. On one street, residents tired of sinking their shoes in garbage-filled mud made a trail in the road, using thick sponges, plastic bags, and other refuse to create a surface to walk on.

For a neighborhood that several million people call home – no one knows the exact number – Ajegunle remains largely cut off from basic infrastructure, like the running tap water Lagos's elites take for granted.

And yet, Ajegunle is just one of many such slums that 70 percent of Lagos's population, and, indeed, even part of its middle class, call home.

As more and more Nigerians flood into Lagos in search of jobs and opportunities, the sanitation system is badly under strain. Without improvements, risks of disease increase. Already Nigeria has been hit by several cholera outbreaks, claiming thousands of lives.

Poor sanitation is the main cause of outbreaks like this in a country where 33 million people lack access to toilets. Human waste is out in the open and can contaminate water sources.

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