Editor’s note: As oil spills continue devastating the Niger Delta region, Engr. Ibinabo Bob-Manuel in this piece lists four impacts of environmental degradation in the area.
Engr. Ibinabo Bob-Manuel
As a child growing up in the grey-skied Nigerian village of Abissa in Rivers State, I occasionally wentto the river to swim when the river was in full tide, and go pick periwinkles, set the hook to catch fishes, as well as look out for crustaceans like crabs, lobsters, and others, when the river receded.Quite significantly, the smell of crude oil pervaded the entire environment of the river most of the time, and the crude oil floated on the surface of the water along with the tides.
I was completely ignorant of what this meant, but was constantly warned not to go near an oil spill with a hurricane lantern because the environment was highly inflammable. Innocently, we obeyed those instructions to the letter without knowing that it was actually the result of the damage done to our environment.
A few years ago, I asked my mother who lives, and works in Abonnema, in Rivers State, Nigeria, to send some seafood to me in Colorado Springs, USA. She responded that the fishes had virtually left for elsewhere due to water pollution. This brings us to the subject matter of our discussion today “Environmental Degradationю”
Environmental degradation is the decline of the environment as a result of running down of the ecosystem (i.e. the air, water resources, and the soil), resulting in the destruction of ecosystems, and the gradual extinction of wildlife.
Simply put, environmental degradation is defined as any harmful or undesirable change, or disturbance to the environment. This happens when the earth’s natural resources have been badly tampered with, thus compromising the environment to all sorts of hazards, ranging from the extinction of species, pollution of the air that we breathe, the water that we drink, and the soil we plant our agricultural products.
Environmental degradation is one of the largest threats facing Nigeria today. This is because; it occurs in several ways, with numerous impacts that could cost the country billions of naira to resolve. The Niger Delta region has suffered so much as a result of environmental degradation over the years. And as earlier indicated, the ecosystem of the region has been damaged massively by oil spills, including atmospheric, and noise pollution from natural gas flares. The effects and consequence of environmental degradation are usually long term.
This article shall consider only the following impacts of the pollution on the environment of the Niger Delta.
1. Negative impact on human health
Air pollution (e.g. gas flaring and other toxic air pollutants) causes asthma, pneumonia, and other respiratory diseases. Many people in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria have died over the five (5)decades due to the effects of air pollution, and yet the region is without adequate health carefacilities.
2. Loss of biodiversity
Biodiversity helps to maintain the balance of the ecosystem by restoring soil nutrients, protecting water sources, and stabilising the climate. Since there is little or no biodiversity in the region, the waters have become undrinkable, and marine life is progressively getting extinct. This is one of the reasons why the Niger Delta is currently experiencing the impact of global warming, and climate change.
3. Loss for tourism industry
The Niger Delta region used to be the hub of tourism in Nigeria until recently. The change is as a result of the deterioration of the environment. Consequently, the Niger Delta region has also lost valuable foreign exchange that could have accrued to the states from tourism.
4. Economic impact
The cost of cleaning up oil spillage, and stopping of gas flaring is usually high. In most cases, the clean-up period could exceed a decade, and it is very capital intensive. These have negative impacts on the economy of the Niger Delta.
Pollution, including noise pollution, brings about the degradation of the environment as a result of the activities of oil and gas companies. It is interesting to note that the Niger Delta region provides over 70% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of Nigeria, and yet, the people live with severe ecological problems, and suffer the impact of the degradation of their environment.
At this juncture, it is pertinent to suggest that the Federal Government of Nigeria, in collaboration with the oil and gas exploration and production companies, as well as key stakeholders, particularly the host communities in the Niger Delta, should come together, and find a way forward on how these environmental risks should be mitigated, as well as provide a better lease of life for the people of theNiger Delta. Effective actions are also needed to provide appropriate environmental education to thelocal communities in order to help safeguard their environment for future generations.
Engr. Ibinabo Bob-Manuel is passionate about the environment of the Niger Delta. She is a cyber-security analyst, and currently a postgraduate research student on Cyber-Economics and Incentives. Her desire is to make the internet safe and the environment smart for everybody