We breathe from it. We eat from it. We drink from it. Once upon a time, from leaves, animal skin, soft, white fibers growing in seed-pods, we fashioned out some clothing for ourselves. From tree trunks, sand, limestone and water, communities sheltered themselves from adverse climatic conditions. From natural resources, like iron ore, rubber, plastic and other gifts of Mother Nature to man, we have created for ourselves road and track-based vehicles and water-borne vessels that help us to navigate the vastness of our world, reaching to every nook and cranny of it. Mother Earth is supreme, in that we do not just live on it, thanks to the magnetism of gravity, but also that we savour living from it.
The earth meets all of our biological needs. All living things can’t exist without exploiting their immediate environments in one way or the other. Just by breathing alone, we exploit one of the natural resources: air. Nature has so made it that the survival of any species depends on how well they can explore and exploit their environments.
Be that as it may, the survival instinct of the species, sometimes, leads to incidents of over-exploitation. Now, maybe this is due to the subtle myth that exaggerates the bounteousness of the earth’s resources; or, perhaps, the paranoia from the inadequate excuse to the effect that ‘the existing resources are not enough to go round’’.
Whatever the cause, over-exploitation always triggers a domino effect, to wit: Human activities do subject the environment to severe pressure. The threshold gets broken; the balance of the planetary eco-system gets altered; adverse effects become inevitable, as environmental challenges are brought to the fore.
While natural disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, floods, typhoons, landslides and so on give rise to environmental challenges, they also catalyze other human activities on earth, even though the frequency and intensity of these occurrences vary from one part of the world to the other.
Genuine concerns about the earth’s health have peaked in the last few years, as our world is threatened by a catalogue of unpleasant, earth-based experiences, among which is global warming, a phenomenon brought about by those harmful human activities that verge on over-exploitation. In consequence, global temperature increases, especially with the resurgence of nuclear activities in some volatile parts of the globe. As these phenomena continue to unfold, the air keeps getting more and more polluted, giving rise to fatalities on numerous species that inevitably go extinct. In the same vein, glaciers melt; while natural disasters continue to occur with unusual frequency.
In the African continent, the impact of global warming is unmistakable. Even though natural disasters scarcely occur here as they do in other volatile regions of the world, disasters such as floods, landslides, droughts, famine, starvation, heat-related diseases and dehydration do take their toll on human, animal and marine lives. These features, no doubt, attest to the plaguing reality of climate change occurring at continental level.
At the country level, Nigeria has had its own dose of environmental problems, which we experience in form of atmospheric, land, water and noise pollution as well as land degradation and bio-diversity loss.
The truth of the matter is that most of these problems are man-made, having been aggravated by over-exploitation of the country’s natural resources. This is where the country’s high level of illiteracy comes into play, as wanton negligence and a terrible lack of awareness govern the lives of the environment’s care-takers. Another factor that we cannot lose sight of is desert encroachment, which has reduced the Lake Chad Basin, whose erstwhile remarkable verdure has been reduced to a miserably arid state. Similarly, other parts of the country do experience various degrees of desertification, which is further aggravated by flood-induced erosion of the earth surface.
Imagine yourself strolling leisurely through a typical Nigerian neighbourhood, with the landscape strewn with different colours of cellophane bags, pieces of paper, recharge cards and pure–water sachets, all flying in various directions, some soaring skywards at the behest of a stormy tropical rainfall. When they finally settle down, they become noxious to the soil, as they are not bio-degradable. This means that, by virtue of their texture and chemical make-up, they cannot decompose; neither can they contribute any nutrients to the soil.
It is, indeed, lamentable to note that, even the cities are not spared the occurrence of pyramidal mounds of garbage dumps sited in inappropriate places, attracting colonies of flies bearing myriads of bacterial organisms. Coupled with this is the habit of random disposal of waste exhibited by individuals who are not aware of the damage done to the environment by such action.
A refuse dump along a street in a residential area
If you happen to navigate through the slums, you’d observe gutters ferrying slime and dirt, oozing through shallow drains occurring right beside houses, sometimes, close to eateries. This condition sometimes replicates even in some urban areas, where drainage routes are perfunctorily transformed to refuse-dumps, which, in turn, become a perfect setup for inner-city floods.
Streams and rivers are not also spared of unrestrained disposal of garbage. People take their bath, wash their clothes and defecate therein without discretion. To the deviant ones, it is not a big deal ‘to do the big one’ inside the river that serves the society; neither do they flinch when they face the gutter along the street to ‘pay water-rate.’ In this regard, two poignant questions leap to mind: Firstly, are there conveniences located in strategic places to meet such urgent nature’s call as exist in civilized climes? And, if they do, are they kept spick and span to ward off the nauseating stench that engulf the gutters of our urban areas? It behoves on our local authorities to keep their own end of the bargain when it comes to matters bordering on public hygiene. Lack of social control of the environment has led to individuals taking preventive measures to safeguard their immediate environment from the pungent odour of waste; hence, they inscribe either of these popular injunctions: “No urinating here, by Military Order!!” or “No dumping of refuse here.”
An individual doing his business in public
It is, indeed, baffling how people violate environmental laws enshrined in our statute books or stipulated by relevant organs of the United Nations Organisation (UNO). It is equally disconcerting to note that folks living in such hygienically compromised places, for lack of any neater, safer, saner alternatives, find a justification for disposing their waste where they like in the non-existence of known, state-controlled garbage facilities in the neighbourhood.
As if all these identified irritants of environmental degradation that rob our habitats of their aesthetic value were not enough, the society is heavily inundated with ear-splitting cacophony of noise that characterize our public places. More troubling is the noise from howling power generating sets that, ironically, serve as the main source of energy supply in our towns and villages, rather than as a supplementary source of electricity. This, to a large extent, has compounded the country’s already burdensome environmental challenges.
Consequently, our ear-drums are subjected to sustained din that, over time, affect our hearing. Perhaps, this is the price one must pay – leaving the machines to roar and bellow – in order for us to satiate our inevitable energy requirements. Only that the price is fatalistic, considering the noxious content of the fumes from the exhaust pipe that have, at one time or the other, snatched precious lives in their sleep.
Generator sets constituting public nuisance
The emission of carbon monoxide from environmentally-unfriendly vehicles that ply our roads add a disturbing dimension to the vicious, catastrophic equation that already exist in our society. It is crystal clear to every discerning mind that, given this horrific scenario, the nation’s environmental health is continuously imperiled until alternative source of energy is found.
The disturbance of Nigeria’s eco-system is further manifested in the southern terrain of the country, particularly in the Niger Delta, where oil spillage, another agent of environmental pollution, has ravaged the region, ridding it of arable farmlands and dealing deathly blows to marine life. The same Niger Delta region is subjected to a regime of gas flaring, which has contributed immensely to atmospheric pollution of monumental dimension, which, no doubt, has some effect on the people’s health.
The questions on many lips have been: What are the oil companies that are drilling crude oil in these areas doing to mitigate the harmful effects of oil spillage? And what is Government doing to put an end to gas flaring?
Devastating effect of oil spillage on the top soil in the Niger Delta
Gas flaring by a petroleum company
The unsettling issues of land degradation and bio-diversity loss have done great damage to the country’s eco-system. The occurrence of land degradation in Nigeria has been a source of worry to many, as it leads to gross reduction in the value of the bio-physical environment. In particular, it aggravates soil infertility, which, in turn, affects agricultural productivity. This worrisome phenomenon stems from man’s reckless and unchecked activities, which include, but are not limited to, deforestation, poor farming methods, over-grazing, urban development and quarrying. Furthermore, the dumping of non-biodegradable trash, like plastic materials, is, to say the least, destructive to the soil cover. Sadly, this undesirable practice is fast becoming second nature amongst the peoples of this great nation who are yet to cultivate an effective waste disposal lifestyle. Most of these destructive activities have the capacity to wipe out an entire population of living species in the areas where they occur, leading, as it were, to bio diversity loss, which is another alarming environmental issue that confronts us as a nation.
Felling of trees in a depleting forest reserve in Nigeria
Bio-diversity loss may also result from such activities indiscriminate hunting, commercial livestock rearing and poaching – even though this occurs at marginal level. Together, they exert negative impacts on the environment. In most cases, the land is stripped of its protective vegetative cover, while it is exposed to erosion, which imprints its hideous signature upon the top soil. Coupled with this is the destabilization of the eco-system, which expectedly loses some of its components in the process. Most times, these lost components are vital to the sustenance of the eco-systems in which they are found.
Having identified the various challenges to the environment and their respective causes, it is imperative to proffer appropriate solutions to these issues. One of the major steps in that direction would be to re-orientate our people towards preserving the environment, which they should look at as a sacred, communal and ancestral heritage. Therefore, the way we perceive the environment as well as the way we treat it determines how desirable and appealing it ultimately appears.
Truth be told, we have the bounden duty, both as individuals and communities, to take good care of our environment. That way, our own integrity as a people is also enhanced, just as the quality of the environment itself is also equally improved. No one likes to occupy squalid, weedy and foul-smelling environments. No, we don’t. Rather, we look up to the global environmental standards that exist in advanced economies. What we lack now, which we must endeavour to cultivate, is the zeal and commitment to keep our surroundings clean and alluring.
Finding creative ways and insightful methods of waste disposal, including the use of garbage trucks and the availability of organized, well- managed dumps at specified locations in our neighbourhoods would do the environment a world of good. Similarly, the availability of waste-bins in front of compounds and at every turn on our streets, also add to the effort to enshrine cleanliness, which, as they say, is next to godliness.
This is also a wake-up call for local authorities vested with the responsibility to keep the environment safe and healthy, to live up to societal expectation. Rest-rooms are public facilities that should be provided at designated locations to cater for the needs of members of the public who might be pressed to answer nature’s call. This will check the disgusting practice of urinating openly or even ‘doing the big one’ at certain weedy corners that still appear as public places.
One major reason that accounts for people relapsing into negative behaviour is absence of dedicated supervision of public facilities to prevent them from damage or ill-maintenance. While it is apt to enunciate environmental policies, it is equally fit to ensure that such policies are effectively and efficiently implemented. This is where the creativity of our environmental protection agencies are tested, as they are expected to be active in ensuring that people do not contravene laid down rules and regulations that keep our surroundings clean and healthy. Those who run foul of these laws should be penalized in line with the provisions of the laws. That way, they are made to be conscious of the consequences of doing otherwise.
To stifle over-exploitation of resources, there is need to emplace a number of checks and balances with regard to understanding the concept of environment, planning its healthy, people-centred utilization and judicious use of natural resources found therein. This will go a long way towards sustainable environmental development. Regarding alternative sources of power supply, there is need to avoid over-emphasis on a particular resource. This will create enough time for the resource in question to replenish, so as to avoid a depletion that could leave the affected communities with no other tangible alternative.
Accordingly, Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) ought to precede the siting of major industrial and construction projects in our neighbourhoods. This is to forestall untold disasters that could result from not doing so.
The environment is for no one else; rather, it is ours. Being an integral part of it, we are compelled to be kindly disposed to it, so that it too can be well-disposed to us. Anything to the contrary will be to our individual or collective detriment. What we do to the environment, we, overtly or covertly do to ourselves; hence, we must not act in ignorance but, instead, remain conscious of our relationship with, and responsibility to, the environment. It isn’t just some “place” that we happen to be living in; but, rather, it a place that breathes life, a life upon which our own life depends. Therefore, if, as humans, we express a desire to be safe, we should manifest similar concern for other living organisms, which we must nurture to keep alive and healthy. We can only achieve that goal by protecting the environment that we share with them. We must, therefore, protect it from harmful circumstances and, most importantly, from our destructive hands.