By Ambrose Inusa Sule.
One of our primary energy sources, oil, is in the headlines almost daily. One accident after another contaminates precious coastal waters with oil and devastates marine and terrestrial ecosystems. Even the food we eat is a matter of renewed concern as people become more alarmed about the pesticides used in its production. Indeed, the widely publicized health risk posed by specific chemicals such as the pesticides alar, are prompting us to examine more generally the hazards associated with what we eat.
Our natural environment itself may not survive as we know it. Unless our landscapes are preserved and protected, our children may never experience the vast open spaces on which Nigeria has built her history.
Farmlands and open space are vanishing at an alarming rate. And many of the wild animals that once roamed the land, if not already extinct or close to it are seriously endangered.
So, we ask ourselves: “where do we go from here? How are we to protect the Nigerian Environment? How do we satisfy our basic needs and wants in humane, just ways while at the same time respecting the “rights of nature”?
In 1987, David Ricardo, a pioneering economist, noted that abundance in nature was rarely rewarded: where she is munificently beneficent, she always works gratis.” But if nature pays, who then will pay for nature. There is something in nature that is irreplaceable, literally priceless. So reducing nature to Naira and Kobo is balderdash.
There is much to be done. But if we are to find answers, we need to understand the state of the Nigerian Environment today and especially the ways we are altering it.
Today, the international community has recognized that human progress cannot justifiably be assured without concerted efforts to combat the twin evils of poverty and environmental degradation.
Our experience in Nigeria aptly demonstrates that economic growth alone is not enough to guarantee poverty reduction as well as environmental sustainability. Available statistics has shown that despite the relative rise in the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) from 1980 to 1998 poverty has worsened progressively over the period. The incidence of poverty increased from 28.1, percent in 1980 to 65.6 percent in 1996, representing 67.1 million Nigerians compared with the GDP which at 1984 increased from 1470.4 billion- in 1981 to N113.0 Billion in 1993.
In a similar fashion, the limited overall growth recorded in the GDP has unfortunately transformed into growing environmental threats of soil degradation, water contamination, deforestation, coastal erosion, biodiversity and fisheries losses and invasive species which were estimated by the World Bank in 1990 to be abort US$5.11 billion per annum.
Environmental problems threaten the quality of life of the millions of Nigerians who depend directly on natural resources for their lively hoods. The absence of safe water to as many as 50 percent of the whole population in the country confirms that health risks associated with polluted drinking water constitute a major environmental condition affecting the livelihoods of poor people in Nigeria.
Diseases associated with contaminated and stagnant water such as diarrhoea and malaria are common in densely populated areas where the lowest income group live in Nigeria. Poverty is similarly linked with forest depletion as majority of the people, particularly the poor, and especially the women depend on wood for cooking. Poverty has thus led to an almost total dependence of over 90 percent to rural population in Nigeria on the forest for livelihood and economic survival. The consequences of this are that the country lost its forest cover at an estimated rate of 3.5 per annum between 1980 and 1990.
The declining incomes arising from loss of recreational and tourism amenities around our national parks, as well as loss of access to fish harvest due to overfishing by the big fleet operating both legally and illegally in the coastal waters have tended to compound the poverty problems. Mining and its associated activities are also sources of considerable environmental damage to surface water, ground water and land and which in turn has threatened food security and agricultural production.
Oil exploration and spillages have done great damage particularly in the Niger Delta region. Lakes, rivers and groundwater have been severely polluted while marine life and plants and the aesthetic of natural beaches are undergoing systematic destruction. Oil pipeline ruptures and vandalization have led to massive fire outbreaks resulting in destruction of lives and properties of the poor, for example in Jesse, Delta State where hundreds of people were burnt beyond recognition in 1998.
Drought and desertification also bring about severe disruption of the socio-economic development of over 29 million Nigerians, the vast majority of whom are poor. Similarly, it was estimated that about 50 million Nigerians are at risk from soil degradation particularly various forms of soil erosion which is affecting over 90 percent of the total land in Nigeria. The climatic changes may occur as a result of global warming also has significant implications, moreso for the poor. For example, the World Meteorological Organization has estimated that Nigeria could lose over 18, 000 square kilometres of coast land, and well over 3.8 million people affected including billions of dollars worth of property and investments threatened.
With increased pressure from traditional game hunters, poachers and bush burning. for livestock grazing and bush-rat exploitation, the poor in now face serious deficiency in animal protein about 50 percent of which comes from wildlife.
The future of the country’s biodiversity is also under threat from human impact with the attendant loss of valuable medicinal plants diminishing supplies of edible wild plants and scarcity of non-timber forest products which provide sustenance for a large number of the rural people. The over exploitation of the resources of nature by the increasing populations have resulted in conflicts between communities. These conflicts should abate with effective management of the environment.
Invasive species such as Nypa palm, Water hyacinth and sea urchins are equally threatening people’s livelihood. The indopacific Sea Urchin has for example, been reported to have become major pasts to artesian fisherman in the estuaries of the Niger delta.
We have gone this far to show the strong linkage between poverty and environment in order to appreciate the challenge facing our various governments as specifically highlighted in this report.
As earlier observed, it has become evident that economic growth alone is not a sufficient condition for poverty reduction. For growth to place a nation on the part of sustainable development and thus reduce poverty and improve the environment, it must be deliberately accompanied with equity and sustained through well articulated policies of government.
It is therefore expected that this year’s General elections, political parties are expected to make environmental protection and preservation a central issue for campaign.