2019 World Environment Day Tagged “Air Pollution”
Commemoration Press Release
The Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) joins the world to mark the 2019 World Environment Day Tagged “Air Pollution”. “We can’t stop breathing but we can do something about the quality of air we breathe”. The 2019 World Environment Day celebration which focuses on ‘greening the blue’ could not have come at a better time given the increasing use of fossil fuels globally which alters air quality with a measure of biological, chemical or physical pollutants. chemical, biological or physical pollutants. Environmental degradation is a major issue, which affects human and ecosystem well-being and economic development. Not much has been done in developed and developing countries to address issues related to air pollution as most economies remain fossil fuel dependent. The concern is grave in developing ones given that they lack effective mitigation policies and technologies and form the base of impact sufferers.
Specifically, Nigeria is the top oil producer in Africa and 6th globally. The 2019 World Environment Day theme contributes to several aspects of the sustainable development goals (SDGs), including climate action, life on land, and life below water. These SDGs form the major environment burden for people in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, as the traditional livelihood structures of the people -farming and fishing, are tied to the goals.
Unfortunately, Nigeria still flares daily millions of metric tones of commercially viable crude oil associated natural gas, while the hub of oil production, the Niger Delta, consistently experience dark clouds and soot occasioned by diverse flaring activities. The Nigeria Government has proposed many dates to end gas flaring in the country but none has been achieved due to the ad-hoc approach adopted. In addition, open waste dumping system practiced in the country releases immeasurable harmful dioxins, furans, methane and black carbon (when burnt) into the atmosphere. Contributing to the air pollution burden is artisanal oil refining in the Niger Delta region. Artisanal refining of crude oil complements gas flaring to cause unimaginable air pollution across rural and urban areas in the region. Evidence exist that 92% of people globally do not breathe in clean air, and that ground level ozone pollution is expected to reduce staple crop yields by 26% by 2030. This spells doom for the Niger Delta region whose primary livelihood is agriculture. Most unfortunate is the perennial soot that has characterized ambient air quality in coastal communities in the Niger Delta. Specifically, for over three years, Port Harcourt and many communities in Rivers State experience intense suspended particulate matter (also known as soot) that has caused myriad of health, environmental and socio-economic challenges for the citizenry.
Evidence also linked heightened air pollution in the Niger Delta to different respiratory tract diseases, skin infections, breathing difficulties and other socio-economic defects. In addition, biodiversity has been an incredible receptor of air pollution as most gas flaring activities had caused wildlife migration, destroyed medicinal plants, while most artisanal refining camps degrades mangroves –a key natural carbon sinks and the last line of defense of coastal communities. These activities are the bane of global warming and consequently, climate change, given that ecological infrastructures such as mangroves are destroyed pitifully by man-made activities. Biodiversity in the region therefore faces unprecedented loss and threats as a result of air pollution.
Basic solution to addressing air pollution is to reduce the use of fossil fuels with alternative energies such as solar, wind, and water. Unfortunately for Nigeria, the National Assembly recently rejected a Bill on the introduction of hydroelectric cars in Nigeria because of flimsy excuse that our economy is fossil fuel dependent. This could be a setback to Nigeria and the world if we do not deliberately design a blue-print towards ending an era of fossil fuel dependency. Also, citizens’ education across levels could create the needed awareness and expected behavioural changes to end air pollution. Currently, CEHRD operationalizes Environment Clubs in secondary schools in the Niger Delta and uses the platform to develop capacity in sustainable environmental practice, including air pollution reduction. Such platforms for raising awareness and educating the public are key to addressing air pollution emanating from waste dumps, artisanal refining and unwholesome practices such as burning of tyres and unregulated slaughterhouse flares. People should learn to segregate waste, while Government initiates policies to recycle and compost organic waste for agricultural purposes and provide sustainable abattoirs.
Stringent efforts and blue-prints must be put in place to end gas flaring in Nigeria. This should be accompanied by a detail plan of action to develop infrastructures required to harness Nigeria’s wasting associated gas resources for sustainable public use. In addition, Government should develop target programmes and incentives to end artisanal oil refining activities and develop appropriate mechanisms towards reducing carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles and other anthropogenic sources. In addition, the much-awaited commissioning of modular refineries could reduce the activities of artisanal refining in the Niger Delta region, if inclusive participation and environmental sustainability is embedded in the venture.
We should not only focus on policy changes and development but change our everyday lifestyle (for example, eat plant-based diets) to reduce air pollution, face out fossil fuels and reduce impacts on natural places, wildlife and our health.
CEHRD urges the general public to join the campaign against air pollution as we make frantic efforts to salvage our earth. #beatairpollution
Dr. Kabari Sam
Head, Environment and Conservation Programme