This year’s World Environment Day has taken the theme, “Raise your voice not the sea level” with focus on Small Island Developing States (SIDS). It focuses critically on adaptation strategies for island areas or states that are vulnerable to climate change and its devastating effects. According to the Department for International Development (DIFD), the Niger Delta stands to lose over 15,000km2(75%) of land by the year 2050, with just a one meter rise in sea levels! In real terms this means that at least 80% of the people of the region will be displaced due to the low-lying level of the land and its contiguity with the sea. The floods of 2012 are a vivid reminder of what could be a daily reality in the Niger Delta with impending rise in sea levels.
SIDS territories share similar sustainable development challenges, including vulnerability to external shocks and excessive dependence on their natural resources. By implication these states are poorly developed, and have demonstrated, up to now, a lack of internal dynamism to bring about the kind and extent of change necessary to lead them out of this economic bind. It is important to note that coastal communities in the Niger Delta share similar developmental challenges as those enumerated above, and are vulnerable to climate change. In the case of the Niger Delta, this is made worse by a reckless oil industry that ignored for far too long the tell-tale signs of climate change, and continued to spill oil and flare gas without consideration for what this does to our fragile environment. Perhaps far worse are the activities of oil thieves and artisanal refiners, whose operations have made a bad case worse. It is on this note that the National Coalition on Gas flaring and Oil spills in the Niger Delta (NACGOND) is raising its voice and sounding a note of warning that we are living dangerously, and that our fragile ecosystem is tottering under the weight of this industry.
NACGOND is a partnership of twenty five Environmental NGOs and Civil Society coalitions, including ethnic nationalities, academia, and professional bodies. We are bonded together by our common concern for the lingering environmental degradation of the Niger Delta Region, occasioned in part by oil spills, gas flaring and illegal oil bunkering. Right before our eyes, we can see a steady and systematic depletion of hitherto rich mangroves and other flora. Freshwater swamps that used to be rich breeding grounds for a variety of aquatic life have become so polluted that in some cases nothing biotic literally can survive. Consequently, the livelihood of Niger Delta people is also severely impacted. Our people cannot farm anymore, not because they have become lazy, but because those among them who tried received uncharacteristically poor crop yields. The inevitable poverty faced by communities has forced many to seek refuge in towns and cities around the region. This urban drift is environmentally unsustainable.
The Niger Delta, as we know, lies on the Atlantic coast line, and is the second largest delta in the World. It spans over 20,000 km2 and hosts about 40% of the population of Nigeria. Its oil and gas resources are the mainstay of the Nigerian state, accounting for about 90% of the country’s revenue and total export earnings. However, even a cursory look at the region shows an unmistakably wasteful oil and gas economy that consistently leaves the poor behind. Statistics show that an estimated 168 billion cubic meters of natural gas is flared worldwide, and that 13% of this is flared in Nigeria alone! Through this wasteful act the country loses about $2.5 billion in potential revenue annually, a total of $72billion in the period 1970-2006. Gas flaring also contributes to climate change and extreme weather conditions that render the coastline amenable to erosion, among other effects. A recent report by the Intergovernmental panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reveals that coastal vegetation, especially the mangroves, have been lost to coastal erosion, further compounding the problem of climate change. In addition, the Federal Ministry of Environment in 2010 warned about the alarming rate of forest loss in Nigeria and if depletion continues with no abatement measure in place, it is estimated that the remaining forest, majority of which is located in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria, would likely disappear by 2020.
It is against this backdrop that NACGOND calls on the Nigerian government, Oil companies and other implicated agents to put an end to routine gas flaring in the Niger Delta and immediately conduct a region-wide environmental audit. We encourage gas to power projects and increased domestic gas utilization across the country. All residents of this region must aim for climate change neutrality, through the use of renewable energy and other sustainable mitigation and adaptation approaches that are environmentally friendly and people centered. We call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to enforce regulation of the oil and gas industry, with punitive measures for polluters as well as tax breaks to encourage cleaner operations. The International community is to insist that industrialised nations that are principally responsible for the current high levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions adhere to the Kyoto Protocol and steadily reduce emissions. As NACGOND we raise our voices and not the sea level!
Rev. Father Edward Obi, MSP, Ph.D.