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Evolving environmental challenges

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Environment Watch By Ambrose Inusa Sule, mnes

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People in many countries round the world are today on edge over the prevalent environmental disasters that have become a daily occurrence. People have become more willing to see such disasters as the result of bad environmental policies.
Despite the very importance of The Environment to our very survival and economic progress, it has never been treated as a central issue during and after elections by political parties in Nigeria.
It should be realized that people are becoming worried about environmental issues. The sense of ecological interdependence among nations is today very much pronounced. The policies of a few countries may determine the fate of the rest. Not only do the intractable environmental issues increasingly tend to be international, they often involve irreversible damage.
It may take centuries for the hole in the ozone layer to repair itself or the oil in the sea to degrade or the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere to full to levels that no longer threaten global warming.
In developing countries including Nigeria, economic growth without environmental concern has produced horrific consequences. A survey conducted sometime ago in 14 countries, nine of them poor, found high levels of alarm about pollution of drinking water and of the air and land. In almost every country majorities of people and leaders thought that pollution would get worse; and in all countries large majorities saw a direct link between environmental quality and public health.
Given that the grisliest environmental horror stories come from third world countries that may not be surprising.
In rich countries, by contrast, 30 years of environmental policies has brought some results. On some measures, rich countries have undoubtedly grown cleaner. Yet, this is not public perception; most people in rich countries believe their environment is continuing to deteriorate.
According to former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, “No generation has a freehold on the Earth. All we have is a life tenancy, with a full repairing lease.”
It is recognized that only government can ultimately set the terms of that “full repairing lease.”
When the Green Party of Nigeria (GPN) was registered along with other political parties before the 2003 elections, it was heart-warming for environmental stakeholders who saw the party as a rally point for environmental advocacy in the country.
Though, the party did not make much impact at that year’s elections, but at least, it had the resemblance of an environmental pressure group. To the chagrin of environmental stakeholders, the leadership of the party had the name of the party changed for God knows why. Today, there is no single pro-environmental political party in Nigeria.
It may not be out of place to say that most political leaders in the country do not have the idea that the environment is synonymous with our very existence and sustainability.
It is no gain saying the fact that elections in Nigeria were never issues oriented. In 2007, it was expected to a larger extent that that year’s elections would have been issues oriented, but it was not different from other past elections in the country.
It is sad that even the 2011 campaign 11 general elections there was no single political party that made The Environment a campaign issue.
African Ministerial Council on Environment (AMCEN) in its mission statement says that economic and environmental policies, which do not improve the lives of the poor majority of our people, are not socially or politically sustainable.
The overarching goals of alleviation of poverty in our economic development can only be met if we ensure the adequate protection and management of our natural resources.
Principle 25 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development states that Peace, Development and Environmental Protection are interdependent and indivisible. Given the global search for practical ways to give expression to the notion of Sustainable Development, Sustainable Development must address the considerable under-development and poverty that plagued most countries round the world, including Nigeria.
Section 20 of the Nigeria Constitution mandates the state to protect and development the environment and safeguards the water, air and land, forest and wildlife of Nigeria.
In compliance with this obligation and exercise of this mandate, a de novo ministry of environment was established in 1999 at the inception of Obasanjo administration and all the state governments took cue by creating ministries of environment in their respective states.
Although, most Nigerians see environmental issues as important objectives, comparatively few articulate their interest through political activism.
It is on record that former president Olusegun Obasanjo as the presidential candidate of the PDP in 1999 general election did not make the environment a campaign issue, but took a laudable step to create the federal ministry of environment as the apex institution on environmental matters in Nigeria. Besides this laudable step core environmental problems remained to be tackled headlong. For years, the federal ministry of environment has been running a near zero budget as major environmental problems have remain unsolved.
In the United States for example, environmental issues have become central during presidential elections, such as green-house emissions responsible for global warming and climate change. This shows that environmental issues in today’s world have taken the front seat as it is recognized that there can never be a meaningful development without environmental sustainability.
Both the Exclusive and Concurrent Lists in the 1999 Constitution is so silent on matters relating to Environment and Ecology such as what would be the most realistic national policy on environment and ecology and what would be the most equitable and balanced sharing of responsibility for Environmental and Ecological Devolution of Power between the central and federating components of government viz-a-viz the federal, states and local governments.
It is a known fact that every one of the 36 states of the federation including the FCT has environmental/ecological problems of one form or other. It is desert encroachment in the far northern states, gully erosion in the central states and coastal erosion in the far southern states as well as man-made environmental problems occasioned by mining and tree-felling activities. That means that each state has its set of environmental and ecological problems to attend to.
It is no longer news that 70 percent of our health problems have been reported to be environmentally-related. Diseases such as malaria, diarrhea, cholera, measles, typhoid fever, yellow fever, among others are all products of unsanitary environment besides the debilitating poverty occasioned by environmental decline.
Aggregating all the sources of environmental degradation, the ultimate long-term effect of not redressing the problems has been estimated to be as high as US$5 billion per year as reported by the World Bank some time ago.
Redressing the backlog of environmental problems remains a central concern for both the people and all tiers of government.
It is not that there have not been some efforts to protect and develop our environment and its natural resource base in order to achieve sustainable development. In spite of some levels of achievements during the past years, the challenges ahead are quite monumental. We must recognize that there is no ultimate dichotomy between a sustainable economic growth and environmental protection.
Today, our cities are plagued with smog and blighted neighborhoods too dangerous to enter. Highways are congested and noisy, public transportation systems are inadequate and expensive and water and sewage facilities are often antiquated. The air we breathe is laden with variety of toxic and hazardous chemicals, so much that tens of thousands of sick and elderly people must stay indoors many days of the year. Solutions are slow coming and those that have emerged fall far short of the mark.
Experts have reported that the widespread of chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) has damaged, perhaps irreparably the Ozone Layer. As a result, our vulnerability to diseases is expected to increase substantially in coming decades.
Carbon dioxide and other trace gases from factories, power plants and vehicles are altering global climate in a way that we are just beginning to understand. Toxic wastes has infiltrated our groundwater and streams, poisoned our drinking water and fouled our beaches.
One of our primary energy sources, oil, is in the headlines almost daily. One accident after another contaminates precious coastal waters with oil and devastates marine and terrestrial ecosystems.
Even the food we eat is a matter of renewed concern as people become more alarmed about the pesticides used in its production. Indeed, the widely publicized health risk posed by specific chemicals such as the pesticides alar, are prompting us to examine more generally the hazards associated with what we eat.

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