The safety of the environment is one of the major challenges of the times, which nations have tried to tackle spiritedly because of its far-ranging consequences on sustenance of life on the planet.
Since the Rio Conference on the environment in 1992, which held under the auspices of the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED), Nigeria has braced to the challenge of tackling some of the challenges head-on.
These efforts notwithstanding, observers say that the nation’s environmental problems are still very visible, considering the level of pollution and land degradation in parts of the federation.
According to the Minister of Environment, Hajia Hadiza Mailafia, “the nation’s environment has suffered extensive damage arising from human and natural causes”.
Environmentalists specifically point to the high level of water and air pollution, gully erosion, desertification, deforestation and related human activities, which had seemingly defied efforts at redemption.
Besides these localised problems, there have also been global concerns over the depletion of the earth’s ozone layer, which resulted in increased global warming.
Toxic waste dumping has also been a major problem for the developing countries which were always victims of such nefarious act.
The problems, nonetheless, have persisted despite the provisions of the Basel Convention, which aims at reducing the movements of hazardous wastes between national borders, especially from developed to underdeveloped countries. Nigeria ratified it in 1991.
Only recently, the 8th National Council on Environment met in Kaduna, to appraise Nigeria’s efforts at tackling problems related to the environment.
Its theme was: “Transforming the Nigerian Environment”.
At the meeting, Mailafia and other stakeholders said that unless urgent rescue mission was embarked upon, the extensive damage to the nation’s environment would persist.
Before now, Nigeria was ranked 126 among the 149 countries on the Environmental Performance Index (EPI) in 2008.
This ranking, however, has deteriorated to the extent that Nigeria has been overtaken on the table by many African nations which were hitherto behind it.
“This has placed Nigeria behind other African countries like Mauritius, Egypt, Ghana, South Africa and Kenya,” Mailafia bemoaned.
The minister underscored the need for stakeholders to reduce the erosion of the nation’s coastline from 835 kilometres to 250 kilometres by 2013, as part of efforts to meet the target of MDGs in 2015.
“It is a responsibility to be shared by all three tiers of government as enshrined in the 1999 Constitution”.
Analysts say that deforestation and forest degradation are other areas of critical concerns in environmental protection, especially as Nigeria cannot yet boast of the coverage of 25 per cent of land mass coverage by vegetation, as recommended by the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO).
Mailafia called for a holistic and coordinated approach at combating this aspect of environmental problem, lamenting that the nation’s total forest reserves had dropped from 10 per cent in 1977 to about six per cent currently.
Gov. Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State on his part said it was time for pragmatic steps to be taken against every actions of man that were inimical to the preservation of the environment.
He said that Kaduna State presently faced challenges as illegal mining, industrial pollution and solid waste management. He called on the Federal Government to come to its aid through the establishment of a central effluent waste treatment facility.
The Director-General, National Environmental Standards Regulations and Enforcement Agency (NESREA), Dr Ngeri Benebo, said that environmental qualities were on the decline in Nigeria.
In her presentation entitled: “Role of Environmental Compliance, Monitoring and Enforcement in the Attainment of Sustainable Development”, Benebo advocated heavy fines for violators of environmental laws.
She said that the paltry fines paid by violators of environmental laws, coupled with the delay in the handling of environmental cases in courts largely contributed to such decline.
The director-general further charged Nigerians to be environmental watchdogs, stressing that sustainable environment were a collective responsibility.
In an apparent response to some of these challenges, some institutional frameworks have been evolved by the Federal Government, all geared towards a sustainable development, in realisation of the fact that much of climate change was linked to human activities.
For instance, the Federal Ministry of Environment recently launched the Automated Web-Based Flood Early Warning Systems (WEBFEWS), to check and manage floods across the country.
Director, Erosion, Flood and Coastal Zone Management in the ministry, Mr Adekunle Oshikoya, said that the system’s capacity to forewarn on floods raised the prospects of better management of floods in the country.
According to him, the Federal Government was making efforts to install WEBFEWS in all major catchments and coastal areas of the country that were vulnerable to flood.
His deputy, Dr Moronkeji Oyeleke, said that eight persons — four each from his ministry and the Water Resources Ministry — had been trained in the U.S. on the handling of the facilities.
Government’s perception has been that a clean, reliable, secure and competitive energy supply mechanism was of critical concern.
Following this realisation, the ministry has commenced the construction of “Abuja Green City with Zero Emission’’ in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Coordinator, Renewable Energy of the Ministry of Environment, Mrs Bahijjahtu Abubakar, described the project as being the first in Africa, with a potential to reduce Greenhouse gas emission and thus boost the nation’s Voluntary Emission Reduction (VER).
“It will be the first in Africa and second in the world after Masdar city in United Arab Emirates. It is low-carbon development, using a combination of local electricity generation, improved insulation and energy efficient devices for apartments. ’’
She said that the project, which would be sited between Mpape and Bwari towns in Bwari Area Council and the city, would sit on an estimated 2,000 hectares of land.
Besides, she disclosed, the ministry recently distributed about 150 Solar Kits for use by barbers, hairdressers and restaurant operators in rural areas of the country, to tackle poverty and boost the nation’s Carbon Credit – a monetary incentive from the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC).
Mrs Abubakar added that additional 500,000 kits were expected by October, for distribution to subsequent batches of beneficiaries. She said that the project was supported by international donors.
Moreover, she said that her ministry was executing a 50 mega watts solar plant and a 2,000-unit energy efficient scheme in Kaduna, which were both aimed at addressing perennial power outages.
Mr Ezenwa Nwagwu, an environmentalist, lamented that the country had not made the expected progress in environmental management since over five decades of independence.
“There are no clear standards on ground to address environmental issues such as waste disposal and other forms of environmental management.
“When there are no standards, it then becomes difficult to measure your rate of progress or decline. “
He alleged corrupt practises in matters related to the conduct of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which in turn impacted negatively on the nation’s economy.
Nwagwu tasked governments at various levels to address desert encroachment, erosion, air and water pollution, as well as environmental degradation, which bred restiveness in the Niger delta region.
Dr Morufat Balogun, Dept. of Crop Protection and Environment, University of Ibadan, said that Nigeria has made progress in environmental management though the pace was slow.
Balogun called for increased awareness programmes on environmental issues at all levels, so as to sensitise the populace on climate change.
She particularly tasked government to ensure adequate monitoring and evaluation of environmental projects across the country, while the grassroots should also contribute towards improving the environment.
Observers say that the recent release of N11.5 billion by the Federal Government, through the Ecological Fund Office (EFO) for the remediation of 15 erosion sites and flood control projects in the South East zone is a salutary gesture.
They expressed hope that more interventions as this would come for most parts of the federation, which have suffered immense environmental degradation.
Oluyole writes for News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).