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‘Gas Flaring fuels Desertification in the North’

By Ugochukwu Chimeziri

“Flare gas in the Niger Delta and you propagate desertification in the northern Nigeria,” were the words and warnings of Mr. Nimmo Bassey, Executive Director, Environmental Rights Action (ERA), a non governmental organization at a recent media training organized by the NGO in Abuja.

Bassey, who is also the president of Friends of the Earth Nigeria (FoEN) said that transnational oil companies that are flaring gas in the Niger Delta are immensely contributing to the green house gases which are seriously depleting the ozone layer which protects the earth surface. According to the environment chief, the drying up of the Lake Chad and other major water sources in the north including desert encroachment which is threatening all the northern states of Nigeria are fueled by green house gases of which a part come from gas flaring by oil companies operating in the Niger Delta.

“The annual tree planting exercises appear to be futile labours except the main factors aiding the phenomenon are confronted and dealt with,” he said.

In an interview, Dr Abdullahi Umar Ganduje, executive secretary of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), said the drying up of the water source will leave at least 30 million people with no means of livelihood, a situation that would likely trigger serious security problems.

“If Lake Chad dries up, 30 million people will have no means of a livelihood, and that is a big security problem because of growing competition for smaller quantities of water." He added that "Poverty and hunger will increase. When there is no food to eat, there is bound to be violence,” Gandije warned.

The implication of the drying of Lake Chad is already obvious in the displacement of fishermen, pastoralists and others who depend on its water. The future is bleak, unless the root causes of this phenomenon is tackled. It may even be the case that the recurring land crises in the middle belt can be traced to the environment displacement of populations in these areas and the religious colouration may well be convenient cover for perpetrators of intolerance, he added.

Lake Chad shrank from an area of 25,000 square kilometres in 1963 to under 1,500 square kilometres in 2001.

In his paper entitled ‘Nigeria: Persisting Environmental Challenges,’ Bassey said that since it was difficult to directly link some of these damages to their causes, even the government tends to be unbothered.

“…The environment has suffered special injury because the implications of certain aspects of the neglect are not immediately visible, as would for example the decay of infrastructures such as road buildings, water supplies and telecommunications. Demands for environmental protection may even at times be viewed as anti-progress or development. Some times policy makers simply act as though they expect that the problems would simply disappear..,” he said.

Blaming the unseriousness of the government in not relying on agriculture which used to be the mainstay of the nation, he said that the introduction of Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in 1986 by the administration of former Ibrahim Babangida’s destroyed all the legacies the nation had in agriculture. He revealed that while SAP was projected to the citizenry as an initiative of the then government, it was actually a programme of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). “…Efforts in the agriculture sector suffered heavy blows in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa from the 1980s when a combination of structural adjustment programmes pushed by the WB/IMF and a regime of hunger politics foisted food aid on many of the countries on the continent.”

Buttressing further on the effects of gas flaring on the life expectancy, he said that while the national life expectancy has been 46.4 years for males and 47.3 years for females according to the 2006 national census, an average life expectancy in the Niger Delta has dropped to 41 years with over 60 per cent of the population there below 30 years of age.

In the meantime, he has blamed the government for backing land grabbing in Nigeria. Bassey said that over 100,000 hectares of land have been grabbed in Nigeria for production of agro fuels according to a recent survey by the FoEN.

The training was specifically meant to take environment focused journalists through the emerging challenges facing the planet earth including Nigeria. The training produced insights into neglected challenges which are actually posing serious dangers to the environment.

The two-day training ended with the setting up of a Journalist Network on Environment (JNE) in Abuja. The Abuja JNE is a branch of the JNE whose national headquarters is in Lagos. So far the JNE has spread to the Niger Delta with Warri in Delta State being the anchor base while Abuja will anchor northern states including Jos. ERA/FoEN has been the facilitator of JNE Nigeria.

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