As the world marks the 2020 World Environment Day titled “Time for Nature”, the Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD) decries the degrading state of nature’s goods and services in Nigeria, especially in the Niger Delta. Given the connection between nature and human development, CEHRD insists that achievement of the sustainable development goals (SDGs) will remain elusive in Nigeria as long as the integrity of life-supporting ecosystem goods and services is compromised by unregulated human activities. It is, therefore, pertinent for all stakeholders (the government, private sector, Civil society, individuals) to take on environmental stewardship responsibility to conserve nature.
Nigeria has ratified almost all necessary conventions, treaties and protocols that support climate action. However, subsequent domestication and implementation is the bane of such instruments. The pattern of poor implementation of policies relating to protecting nature and natural resources, particularly biodiversity is the same across all levels of governance in the country.
We cannot relegate the importance of biodiversity and the life-support role nature plays in human development. We need biodiversity for almost all sectors of the economy including medicine, textiles, pharmacy, food and beverage, construction, and the list continues. Taking the Niger Delta region into focus, the earth can no longer sustain life. The people can neither access potable drinking water nor breath clean air. Existing water sources are loaded with hydrocarbon making it unfit for consumption. In 2011, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), published a report stating the urgent need to provide potable drinking water to communities in Ogoniland where existing water sources contained benzene levels 900 >World Health Organization (WHO) guidelines for potable drinking water. The report also outlined the plausible health risks the people in the communities are exposed to, for consuming contaminated water. Nine years after the UNEP report, the communities continue to consume same benzene-laden water. Even in the Covid-19 era, when constant hand washing for 20 seconds has become the new normal, most local communities do not have the luxury to imbibe such simple hygiene, given that clean water is a scarce commodity.
Similarly, the air people in the Niger Delta breathe is impaired and composed majorly of particulate matter (soot) -a major cause of premature death globally. In fact, a recent study undertaken by CEHRD recorded PM2.5 as high as 567μg/m3 (24hrs Mean) in the Port Harcourt Metropolis as against WHO’s guideline of 25 μg/m3 for PM2.5 (24hrs Mean). If this trend subsists, the inhabitants will face an epidemic of respiratory illnesses and consequently transform the town and adjoining communities to cancer hubs.
Gas flaring and artisanal refining activities has contributed significantly to the impairment of air quality in the region. As a result, life expectancy in the Niger Delta is reportedly 10 years less than those in other regions in same country. While this is exacerbated by other contributory factors such as unemployment, behavioural change is key to resolving the sundry issues of biodiversity conservation. It is therefore highly imperative to situate the theme of this year’s World Environment Day in the context of perennial environmental issues within the Niger Delta region.
First, the grievous issue of mangrove degradation should be prioritized. Oil business and its ancillary activities have destroyed unquantifiable hectares of mangrove in the Niger Delta region. In Bodo City, a coastal community in Rivers State, over 2000 hectares of mangroves were destroyed by two major oils spills about a decade ago. This means, 2000 hectares of mangroves that would have sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere were destroyed without remediation or restoration till date. Second, Nigeria is the world poverty capital, and agriculture seems to be the only viable traditional livelihood that can potently restore the devastated local economy, and provide employment for a critical mass of youths including men and women. However, significant arable landmass in the area is unable to support agriculture due to extensive legacy oil spills sites and impacts of climate change. Similarly, the rivers no longer support the age-long fisheries livelihood of the region as the daily occurrence of hydrocarbon has further delimited fish species and the habitat that support them. Third, because oil spills inhibit the soil microbial community, and that remedial action towards remediation of oil spills sites has been ad-hoc, crop yield has declined tremendously.
Fourth, human behavior towards marine organisms has been detrimental to the inability of the marine environment to continually support life. For example, since the last World Environment Day, over 3 Whales have been publicly butchered in coastal communities in Bayelsa state, despite being protected species. This sort of unacceptable behaviour threatens biodiversity and limits the ability of nature to support life and human development.
We must therefore incorporate nature-based solution into global climate action to address the problems facing biodiversity. New policies and political directions must consider nature, and its abilities to continue to support life on earth. For instance, issues related to oil spills and gas flaring should no longer be delayed or deprioritized as seen in our national policy. Both activities should be treated as environmental crimes and stringent measures applied where they occur. Thus, the first would be for Nigeria to muster the political will to end gas flaring NOW.
Climate action in the Nigerian context should mean to end gas flaring, oil spills, indiscriminate dumping of waste, artisanal oil refining, oil theft, and the release of industrial waste in our rivers. The ad-hoc approach to remediating oil-polluted sites, as currently practiced is a pathway towards bigger environmental and socio-economic issues. Without mixing words, the hydrocarbon pollution remediation project (HYPREP) is one of Government’s climate actions towards restoring nature and supporting biodiversity restoration. However, the activities and programmes of HYPREP in the last 3 years have not met the expectations of the supposed beneficiaries. It is the desire of stakeholders that government takes responsibility to ensure that HYPREP creates sustainable jobs for the teaming youths in the Niger Delta, develop the necessary infrastructure for sustainable waste management, develop the capacity of local communities, demonstrate capacity to clean, remediate and restore legacy sites in Ogoni and the entire Niger Delta. Above all, it is expected that HYPREP would immediately provide potable drinking water to communities in Ogoniland.
CEHRD and other civil society organizations has been at the forefront sensitizing the local population and building capacity of community members on climate change mitigation and adaptation. Part of CEHRD’s climate action campaign is the establishment of Environment clubs in secondary schools in the Niger Delta, where students are trained as environmental vanguards for climate action. In addition, CEHRD has undertaken mangrove restoration, tree planting exercise in many communities across the delta. On this note, CEHRD admonishes the Local, State and Federal Governments to immediately initiate steps towards:
i. Local government should enact by-laws to establish mangrove protected areas (MPA)
ii. Undertake extensive air quality baseline studies and take measures to enhance air quality in the region
iii. Use the mass media and civil society organizations to drive behavioural change towards nature
iv. Entrench tree planting as a life style in local communities across the country
v. Develop and implement a blue-print for infrastructural development towards ending gas flaring in Nigeria
vi. Provide alternate livelihood packages for youths involved in artisanal refining
vii. Develop capacity across stakeholder groups in climate action
viii. Develop sustainable waste management mechanisms
ix. Provide avenues for waste recycling
x. Provide stringent penalty for gas flaring
xi. Pay adequate attention to climate change by means of developing a focal agency to address climate change issues
xii. Develop adequate policies and bye-laws where applicable to ensure attitudinal change towards the environment.
CEHRD believes that a pragmatic framework towards energy transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy as globally practiced would benefit the country, and enhance nature rejuvenation. This implies appropriate policies, economic diversification, changing oil money mentality, and a deliberate actionable policy towards creating a knowledge-based economy.
Kabari Sam (PhD)
Head, Environment and Conservation
Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development (CEHRD)
About World Environment Day
This year’s World Environment Day tagged Time for Nature. In the last 48yrs, the world has consistently commemorated the Environment Day on June 5 every year, setting the agenda for awareness and action to ensure environmental conservation, protection and restoration. Each year’s commemoration has been tagged an interesting theme focused on a pressing environmental need. In this eventful year 2020, the World Environment Day is tagged “Time for Nature”. This year’s theme is consequently imperative as over 1million plant and animal species across the world face extinction with many others endangered. This indicates a limiting measure for biodiversity to support life on earth. Amongst the planets in the universe, the presence of water and oxygen on earth made it suitable for life. These features characterize an ecosystem that can support human development. This year’s world environment theme is focused on Nature’s role to provide essential infrastructure that supports life on earth and human development. This role, particularly of ensuring quality oxygen for humans and clean water for life, will elude humans, if we continue to indulge activities that hasten the extinction of other life forms and destroy biodiversity.