Ondo celebrates World Environment Day
By Kayode Adegbehingbe
World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated June every year but marked in July this year to draw attention to the need to protect the environment, calling for a reorientation and an action plan.
And there is much to protect in the environment when it comes to Ondo State as part of the global community. And we cannot continue to abuse the environment and not pay the price for it.
The State has a lot of environmental issues confronting it. The coastal areas are dealing with oil spillage, gas flaring, fire outbreak from pipeline vandalism, water pollution, sea incursion. Different places are experiencing flooding.
The WED has been commemorated since 1974, and for this year, the theme was Beat Air Pollution. Each year, there is an official host country where the environmental issue it faces is turned into a global theme for the year. This year’s host was China, which has been battling with pervasive air pollution problem, hence the theme for the year was Beat Air Pollution.
According to the United Nations, “Every World Environment Day has a different host country, where the official celebrations take place. The focus of the host country helps highlight the environmental challenges it faces and supports word wide effort to address them.”
In Ondo State, the World Environment Day was commemorated last week Wednesday, with the State Governor, Oluwarotimi Akeredolu expressing the commitment of his administration to ensure that air pollution becomes a thing of the past in the state, charging the people to desist from indiscriminate waste disposal, bush burning, gas flaring and other acts that are hazardous to the environment.
Speaking on why the state did not observe the Day on June 5 being the official day to mark WED according to the directive of the United Nations, but postponed it till July, the Governor said that it is because that day coincided with the Federal Government declared Ramadan public holiday.
Speaking on the efforts of his government to make the air cleaner, he said that the government has taken delivery of 1000 ‘clean’ stoves for distribution to rural women. This would help mitigate the widespread use of wood for cooking, which pollutes the air with toxic particles injurious to health.
Experts posited that three billion people continue to use solid fuels and open fires for cooking, heating and lighting, and that the adoption of cleaner, more modern stoves and fuels can reduce the risks of illness and save lives. This is why the distribution of the clean stoves to rural dwellers in the state as part of the programme of event to celebrate WED in the State is a commendable move towards keying into the global trend to reduce acts that lead to air pollution.
The event was held at the Adegbemile Cultural Centre Akure, where the governor explained that the there is the need to awaken the sense of responsibility and proactiveness of the people to take actions to protect the environment.
He said: “The Theme is a call to action designed to consider how we can change our daily lives to reduce the amount of air pollution, its contributions to global warming and its effects on our health. The growing concern and need for preservation and the improvement of the human environment had been a major issue that affected the well-being of people and economic development throughout the world.”
He added that his administration is determined to provide mitigating measures through the use of renewable energy and green technologies among others to reduce the level of air pollution in the state.
According to data made available by the UN, around 3.8 million premature deaths are caused by indoor air pollution each year, the vast majority of them in developing world, which includes Nigeria.
Incidents of people dying from generator fumes has been a recurring news item. A recent and pathetic one involved wedding guests in Imo State where ten reportedly died with 20 were hospitalised.
Official sources stated that the generator was on in the kitchen while the door and windows of the rooms the guest stayed were locked. “It is a case of sudden and natural death.” The source of death was the carbon monoxide from the generator left running all night.
It’s been estimated that the global transport sector accounts for about one quarter of energy related carbon dioxide emission.
According to the UN, Air pollution emissions from transport have been linked to nearly 400,000 premature deaths. “Almost half of all death by air pollution from transport are caused by diesel emissions, while those living closest to major traffic arteries are up to 12 percent more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.”
Agriculture is also a source of air pollution, and to combat this, people are encouraged by the United Nations to move to plant based diet and reduce food waste. Farmers are encouraged to reduce methane which contributes to ground level ozone, causing asthma and other respiratory illnesses.
Another major contributor to air pollution is waste disposal, with open waste burning and organic landfills reportedly releasing harmful dioxins, furans, methane and fine particles matter like black carbon into the atmosphere.
It has also been established that nine out of ten people in the world breathe in polluted air, seven million premature deaths are caused by air pollution each year, 80pecent of lung diseases are caused due to pollution from cars, buses, trucks and other vehicles; 800,000 premature deaths are also linked to air pollution from coal burning yearly.
In his message to mark the day, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutterres, said: “An estimated nine out of ten people worldwide are exposed to air that exceed World Health Organisation air quality guidelines. This is lowering life expectancy and damaging economies across the planet.
“To improve air quality, we must know our enemy. Death and illnesses from air pollution are caused by tiny particles that penetrate our defences every time we fill our lungs.These particles come from many sources: the burning of fossil fuels for power and transport; the chemicals and mining industries; the open burning of waste; the burning of forests and fields; and the use of dirty indoor cooking and heating fuels, which are major problems in the developing world.
“This polluted air kills come 7million people each year, causes long term health problems such as asthma, and reduces children cognitive development.”
He suggested ways to bring down air pollution to include phasing out coal fired power plants and promoting less polluting industry, transport and domestic fuels, investing in renewable energy sources, encouraging cleaner transport like riding on bicycles instead of using fossil-fuel driven vehicles, planting trees and going the way of recycling wastes rather than indiscriminate dumping or burning.
Air pollution has been declared a global health emergency, threatening “everyone from unborn babies to children walking to school to women cooking over open fire.” It can lead to asthma, other respiratory illnesses and heart diseases, with more than half of the pneumonia deaths attributable to indoor air pollution, according to expert findings.
It is however instructive that the right to clean air is embedded in the Universal Declaration of human rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals-The Global blue print for peace and Prosperity, making it a global concern and emergency, particularly from the health and global warming implications.
Governments are urged to support a clean air world through: putting in place a national air quality action plan; making a pledge to phase out petrol and diesel based cars; monitoring air quality, assessing pollution sources and tackling them to protect citizens from harmful toxins.
Part of the World Environment Day is the BreatheLife campaign, which is about governments making commitments to bring air quality to safe levels by 2030.
BreatheLife is a joint campaign led by the World Health Organisation, United Nations Environment, World Bank and the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, was launched in 2016 to mobilise cities and individuals to protect people’s health and the planet from the effects of air pollution.
Apart from air pollution, a major environmental issue Ondo State battles with is flooding. This is the rainy season and the State is taking some proactive steps to ensure that the problem is kept to a minimum.
A new amphibious excavator has been procured to dredge river courses. It is the Malan Amphibious Excavator CAT 320d2, Swamp Buggy, which when put to use, is projected to put an and to the perennial problem of flooding in the state capital, which has been making life difficult for commuters and dwellers.
In a recent incident of flooding in Akure, the water drove householders from their houses as they ran for their dear lives, also a kindergarten classrooms in a private school was reportedly flooded.
People have made it an habit to block water courses and gutters with debris, preventing free flow of water, which leads to flooding and as population increase and the bad practices persist and multiply, the problem can only get worse.
Therefore, as good as the new excavator to be used for channelisation of river courses to prevent flooding is, more still needs to be done to win the hearts and minds of the people to desist from acts that would be detrimental to the environment through the bad culture of indiscriminate dumping of refuse in gutters.
The government, through advocacy, and the people through compliance with extant environmental laws need to do their parts to ensure a saner environment.
According to the governor, the Amphibious Excavator is purpose built to dredge and clear waterways and for the channelisation of rivers.
While commissioning it, Akeredolu said that flooding often leads to the loss of lives and properties and places like Akure, Owo, Ondo, Ikare, Ore Igbokoda, Okitipupa; and other modern areas are highly affected, asking people to desist from building houses along river banks.
Meanwhile, the permanent secretary of the Ministry of Environment, Mr Temitayo Adeniyi said that wrongful dumping of waste into canals prevents free flow of water, which leads flooding.
He said: “Dumping of refuse into the rivers is prohibited and we are enforcing it, and engaging in aggressive campaign against it to prevent flooding”
The Governor had earlier said: “All of us have to adhere to the culture of doing things in the proper way. There is no two ways about it.
“If we continue to dump our refuse in the channels and drainage systems, they will block and such will lead to erosion with the river overflooding its bank. We have seen that now.
“I think we have to break the myth. We can’t continue to live with the belief that we must throw our debris into a moving water; it blocks it.
“Lucky enough, we have made arrangement for people to come and collect refuse bags for a token, they are ready. All you need to do is put all your waste there and those in charge will come an take it away.”
The environment is about where we live. We impact on it and it impacts on us. The relationship can be mutually beneficial or otherwise. The onus is on all to ensure that the former is the case. Everything needs to be done to ensure this.