Minister of Environment Surv Suleiman Hassan Zarma
Minister of Environment Surv Suleiman Hassan Zarma

Enhancing Environmental Health for Sustainable Development
By Mahmud Abdulsalam

There are myriads of challenges bedeviling our environment. In the Niger Delta, the problem of oil spillage has been a recurring decimal. It is, perhaps the leading problem affecting Nigeria’s natural environment.

The spills in most populated areas in the region often spread out over a wide area, destroying crops and aquacultures through contamination of the groundwater and soils. The consumption of dissolved oxygen by bacteria feeding on the spilled hydrocarbons also contributes to the death of fish. In agrarian communities, often a year’s supply of food can be destroyed instantaneously. Because of the careless nature of oil operations in the Delta, the environment is growing increasingly uninhabitable.

People in the affected areas complain about health issues including breathing problems and skin lesions; many have lost basic human rights such as health, access to food, clean water, and ability to work, to mention a few.

On one hand, desert encroachment has been a constant threat to most parts of the North. Gully erosion and landslides have buried several communities situated in valleys, and ‘murdered’ numerous lives in Anambra, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi and Enugu.

As a matter of fact, the Nigerian environment has been adversely impacted by human activities through releases to the environment (polluting emissions, discharges, waste production etc.); changes to (degradation of) land/habitat; and through the use and depletion of resources.

It is therefore not surprising when the Minister of Environment, Surveyor Suleiman Hassan Zarma disclosed recently that Conservation of biodiversity and effective environmental management are critical to attaining SDGs 13 and 15. According to him, effective green-economy businesses that will conserve the natural resource base as well as promote the livelihoods and socio-economic status of local communities living within the some of the environments and forest reserves should be promoted and implemented for environmental sustainability.

Agricultural activities like soil tilling, grazing, and fertilizer/pesticide application, burning of coal and natural gas to generate power, use of refrigerants and coolants (ozone-depleting substances), sewage and industrial discharges, urban development (tree and vegetation removal), dredging, energy production (exploration and drilling), creation of transport infrastructure (like roads, highways, bridges), and deforestation/logging, among others have continued to destroy the ecosystem, its diverse habitats and exotic biodiversity.

They have resulted in the release of greenhouse gases (which leads to global warming), depletion of ozone-layer, outbreak of respiratory and other deadly ailments, acidification of lakes and rivers, land and water, land water contamination, increased run-off and erosion, depletion of fish population, decreased biodiversity, flooding, increased exposure to ultra-violet radiation, landslides, climate change, coral reefs’ damage, depletion of renewable and non-renewable resources, desertification, and reduction of wildlife habitat, to mention a few injurious impacts.

Similarly, inside Nigeria Environmental Issues news blog, Halidu Mohammed Tasihu, an environmentalist, observed that, “the world may indeed be a beautiful planet, but it is in ever constant danger of destruction and despoliation by nature and man. It is a world in which the greed of our present generation gives little thought to the survival of future generations. This scenario has imposed tremendous strains and stresses on the environment, especially in the past two centuries and put our planet in perilous danger. Ours indeed is a planet in peril. In Nigeria in particular, both nature and man are at work endangering the environment even as we presently lack the knowledge, technology, human capacity, financial resources and the political will to remediate it.”

However, it is heartwarming to note that the Federal Ministry of Environment is championing the crusade for remodifying the environment for sustainable development.

At a recent briefing with departments and agencies of the Ministry of Environment in Abuja, the Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Ibukun Odusote, noted that environmental health is the bedrock of sustainable development in any given society, saying, “one cannot truly separate environmental issues from the economic sustainability of the society, stressing that many environmental factors can affect our health and productivity.”

Mrs. Odusote, who is the Permanent Secretary, stated that environment is the most important detriment of sustainability in any given society as it has the potential to directly and indirectly impact on the wellbeing and health of the citizenry.

She lamented that despite the enormous importance of environmental health to sustainability of the society, the budgetary allocation has remained inadequate to address the various environmental challenges confronting us as a people and as a nation.

She noted that often times the Ministry’s budget is almost always equated to erosion control alone which unfortunately is just one single aspect of several factors that affect the environment, adding that, “our country is facing myriads of climate change issues and concerns that need serious budgetary provisions to address the targets set by the United Nations on Climate Change.”

As part of measures aimed at actualizing the Sustainable Development Goal of ensuring a safe, unpolluted and hygienic environment, there is need for the Ecological Fund to be supervised by the Environment Ministry.

It would be recalled that, few months to her resignation last year, Hajiya Amina Mohammed, former Minister of Environment, opposed a bill proposed by the Attorney General of the Federation and minister of justice, Abubakar Malami, putting the management of the Fund under the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation. She demanded that it should be placed under her ministry.

The Fund, currently managed by the presidency, is an intervention facility set aside to tackle the multifarious ecological problems ravaging communities across the country.

Such problems include soil erosion, drought, desertification, oil spillage, pollution, general environmental pollution, storm, tornadoes, wildfire, large-scale livestock and epidemic, crop pest, landslide and earthquakes, which are mainly the environmental challenges the country is facing and normally should fall under the purview of the environment ministry.

To mention, the concept of sustainable development and conservation should be re-launched as an economic agenda, especially at this critical juncture. It will help to save Nigeria’s assorted habitats, and distinct biodiversity from complete degradation and annihilation.

Furthermore, it is imperative that man re-asseses his relationship with nature. A universal environmental education program would go a long way to educate us about man’s complex inter-relationship with his natural environmental. That is also among the fundamental components of building a sustainable future.

Mahmud Abdulsalam is a PRNigeria Staff Writer