by Orji Uzor Kalu
In its recent report on global pollution, CNN listed Thailand and Nigeria among the most polluted nations in the world. Baffling, isn’t it? But that is true.
Strange and terrifying things are happening in our environment. All kinds of diseases, tragedies and calamities afflict mankind. No nation, no matter how developed or technologically advanced, is spared. China, the United States, Great Britain, Australia and, even, smaller countries such as Kenya and Chad (in Africa) have had their own doses of these calamities. People are forced to ask: What is happening? Who or (and) what is to blame? In all these milieus, nobody has given any rational answer or provided any functional solution to deal with the frightening situation.
Look at China – an emerging global economic superpower – and what tragedies it has had to contend with to get to where it is today. There is no month that passes without one form of calamity or another befalling it. Yesterday, it was earthquake; today it is landslide; and tomorrow it could be mudslide burying hundreds of thousands of people and their belongings alive. China, what a nation! In the United States, it is the same situation. Yesterday, it was Hurricane Sandy; today it is Tornado Margaret; and tomorrow, it could be bushfire razing down sprawling estates. Australia is just coming out of the shock of a two-week bushfire that destroyed hundreds of homes, killed some innocent persons and left behind irrecoverable pain in the hearts of millions.
That is not all: Kenya three weeks ago faced a frightening terrorist attack at a highbrow shopping mall in the nation’s capital – Nairobi – leaving many dead and some wounded. Nigeria, too, is facing multi-dimension challenges in all fronts – political, economic, religious and, even, cultural. Anywhere one goes, one is greeted with tales of woes. It is either Boko Haram has just massacred some innocent school children or kidnappers have taken away one person or another to extract a ransom.
There are strange diseases everywhere. Name it: the traditional ones are amorphously turning into something else, while unknown ones ravage the people, especially the poor, with morbid animosity. I was shocked when I read of the death of a young, promising lady (age 25 years) who died of cancer last week. Now ask me: Cancer of what? Strangely, cancer of the thumb! I have never heard of that before. What is cancer of the thumb? God forbid! But it happened. Very soon, we will hear of cancer of the hair and nail.
In trying to resolve these puzzling developments, my mind was set to work. As usual, I began a process of deep meditative reasoning. Incidentally, the only practicable answer I could find to these strange happenings is abuse of the environment. Yes, environmental abuse. I say so, because the things that happen do not happen in isolation of the environment in which we reside. Man has been unkind to his environment; the same environment that provides him shelter and food. Why should humanity not be mindful of how they treat the environment? Why have they not yet appreciated the fact that all about life is sowing and reaping? It is what we give to the environment that it returns to us. How does anybody expect to sow whirlwind and reap peace? If you sowed whirlwind, definitely, you would reap fire and brimstone.
The sad thing is that almost all of us are guilty of the abuse of the environment. The abuse begins from our homes – poor disposal of refuse, poor personal hygiene, use of firewood for cooking, pollution of our local streams by washing and defecating in them, etc. what of our personal lifestyles? Smoking, eating fatty food, drinking too much alcohol, and not exercising regularly are all causative agents of diseases, especially cancer. The abuse continues with intense passion at the community level where we replicate what we do at home at a larger scale. Then the national level! Here the abuse is done with impunity and treachery. We dump refuse at will wherever we choose to, not minding that the official dumping site is less than a pole away from home. Industries dispose of their wastes as they like, oblivious of the law. People plunder the vegetation in search of log for the construction industry or firewood for cooking. Painfully, nobody makes any efforts to replenish the plundered land.
One bitter truth mankind must acknowledge with all sincerity is that we are gradually digging our own graves by the way we plunder the environment, thereby fast-tracking the impending cataclysm. There is no nation under the sun that is free from culpability. Even the so-called developed nations, as indicated above, have not done much to protect humanity from self-destruction. The level of degradation going on across the globe is frightening, yet nothing much is being done to arrest the worrisome situation.
Interesting, there is no matter that has attracted as much media blitz in recent times as the environment. It has attracted greater global awareness than had been the case in the past. Indeed, the consciousness of the world about the environment has continually been heightened by a combination of factors, all geared toward evolving a safer environment for humanity.
One fact we should however acknowledge is that humanity lives perpetually under the threat of extermination by the mindless degradation of our environment, particularly the depletion of the world eco and bio-systems, compounded by overpopulation and population growth rate, especially at the urban centres.
It is sad that despite the huge threat the degradation of the environment poses to humanity man has refused to learn any lesson in planning his environment.
Aware of the impending catastrophe the United Nations passed Resolution 2997 on December 15, 1972, aimed at encouraging the evolving of deliberate policies by all governments and organizations under its umbrella towards preserving and enhancing the environment as well as consciously creating awareness campaigns on environmental problems and solutions to them.
As beautiful as the resolution appears, it has not achieved much success, basically, because those who subscribed to it have not given it the desired attention. This is true of similar conventions passed by the UN. In fact, Resolution 2997 has aggravated the menace of environmental abuse much more than it had protected it. Why? The reason is simple: when you bark and don’t bite there is the tendency that nobody will ever take you seriously. The United Nations, as a global body, has recorded some success in maintaining global peace, but what has it done to enforce vital resolutions that would secure the environment and make our world safer?
Europe and Asia pose about the most grievous danger to the world with the heavy pollution from their industrial, chemical and nuclear plants. The size and population of China makes it the world’s largest and riskiest in terms of handling human and industrial wastes. It was reported of recent that China’s population is still growing at a geometric rate, which means that by 2032 the population will have increased by over 20%. The problem with this development is that China will find it somewhat herculean to manage the needs of its burgeoning population. Part of the bigger problem centres on environmental pollution. Again, China has one of the largest concentrations of nuclear plants in the world. Managing these dangerous and delicate plants is one big headache. This fact was put to test last year when the latest Tsunami hit it – threatening a sizeable number of these plants. Indeed, apart from massive losses recorded in the maritime and aquatic sectors, many people were exposed to radiation. It is feared that the consequence of what happened would begin to show in another 10 to 15 years.
In its recent report on global pollution, CNN listed Thailand and Nigeria among the most polluted nations in the world. Baffling, isn’t it? But that is true. The unfortunate thing is that even Thailand which was listed with Nigeria has made considerable progress in managing the situation. For instance, it has introduced speed trains to enhance urban mobility for its people. This reduces air pollution by about 30%. It has also resorted to the use of bio-fuels to power its major industrial and chemical plants to reduce dangerous emissions.
Now that Thailand has taken steps to address the notorious rating by CNN and other similar organizations, what then has Nigeria done so far to protect its own environment and citizens? Investigation has shown that not much has been achieved. Urban transportation is still primitive in Nigeria. It is the same old system of each person moving about in his own mobility. The consequences are increased vehicular fumes, traffic jams, and deaths. It was reported last week that two person died of exhaustion at a snarling traffic before Onitsha Head bridge. Those who have not experienced the maddening traffic jam at the Head Bridge Onitsha may not understand the severity of the problem.
It is important, however, at this juncture to point out other forms of environmental degradation. They include, lead in fuel, oil pollution, massive logging which causes deforestation, poor waste management, bush burning, desert encroachment, emission of toxic materials into the air, erosion, sand excavation, etc.
I have made effort to capture the danger facing man in his environment, but former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger, painted a better picture of the challenges to mankind in his message to the celebration of World Environment Day in the past when he said, “ If we are going to leave a better planet for generations to come, we must work within a global effort to ensure the economy and the environment never become competing interests”.
I think Schwarzenegger was right, because the greatest visible threat to the environment is man’s insatiability for wealth. It is, therefore, not contestable that the cases of abuse of the environment occur as a result of increasing economic activities by man, which endanger the environment. I still vividly recall how some wealthy businessmen were arrested in Brazil for degrading the Amazon, the world’s largest forest reserve, through illegal logging activities. They were quarantined for a sin against humanity.
At one of the World Environmental Days, the UN focused on creating ‘Green Cities’ as a strategic Plan for the Planet, drawing attention to the compelling need for us to maintain the greenery of our cities. What obtains at present is that almost every available space in our cities is built up, leaving little or no space for the development of parks, gardens, planting of ornamental trees and flowers, and shelter belts.
This aspect of protecting the environment falls squarely on our town planners and others charged with maintaining the environment.
The state ministries of lands and urban planning should therefore, as a matter of urgent importance, liaise with the state ministries of environment to make it compulsory for those seeking approval for building plans to make provision for gardens or grass lawns in their homes. They should also integrate all these in their master plans for new estates.
Nevertheless, I am glad to note that some states in Nigeria have taken some deliberate and drastic measures to transform their environment to make it safer and nice to inhabit. Already, they have set up powerful task forces to tackle the problem of poor refuse disposal in their states. The task forces have been given wide powers to deal with the situation and restore the lost glory of the affected states. I call on all Nigerians to cooperate with the task force and shun the temptation of falling victims to the laws guiding their operations.
We must condemn the attitude of those who indiscriminately litter our cities with filling stations and boreholes, without seeking technical advice from the relevant ministries and parastatal agencies. It is unfortunate that some of the structures are built without Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report. Government should evaluate the situation with a view to meting out necessary punishments to the offenders.
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