Environment & Health

Climate Change: Fears of flood in Rivers State

On 25th February 2011, the Rivers State Government said that rains
would be very immense than that of last year and would generate an
untold flooding. This was based on the meteorological report on Rivers
State. It was the state’s Commissioner for Information and
Communications, Mrs. Ibim Semenitari, who made this disclosure in Port
Harcourt, the capital of the state, after a State Executive Council
meeting, Wednesday 23rd February, 2011. She said that the government
was already into checkmating the heralded flood. Part of the measure
Semenitari said was the setting up of two committees. These committees
would ensure that effective flood control was in place. Also, the
committees would constitute emergency and relief management. However,
there is need, to be afraid about the anticipated imminent flood in
Rivers State. This is because hardly has any nation stood the large
amount of water covering an area that is usually dry.

Welcomme (1985) succinctly described the process of flooding as a
point when water flow increases is reached where the channel is no
longer able to drain the volume of water passing down the river.
Further rises in discharge above this point (bankfull level) results
in overspill onto floodplains. Here, because, of the flatness of the
terrain, increases in volume are achieved by lateral expansion rather
than by increase in depth, and the water spreads slowly and diffusely
outwards, hampered in its progress by the floodplain vegetation. This
is going to be experienced because there are no internationally
standard drainages in Rivers State that would absorb the overspill
from the river channel, local rainfall and run off, and tides, which
are the causes of flood.

What Semenitari did not inform the Rivers State masses is the type of
flood that was going to hit the state. The recognized types of flood
are three. There is the Riverine flooding, which is a function of
precipitation and water runoff volumes within the watershed of the
stream or river; there is the Coastal flooding, which is typically a
result of storm surge, wind-drive waves, and heavy rainfall. (Experts
say that storm surges may overrun barrier islands and push seawater up
coastal rivers and inlets, blocking the downstream flow of inland
runoff). And there is the Urban flooding, which occurs where there has
been development within stream floodplains. Reportedly, 2006, Port
Harcourt experienced an unprecedented flooding that submerged houses,
paralyzed economic activities and rendered some residents of the
Mgbuoba, Diobu and Nkpolu areas internally displaced. Causes of the
flooding and its socio-economic implications for Port Harcourt have
been treated earlier (Zabbey, 2006b).

However, the burning of oil and gas and fossil energy has built up CO2
round the environment. Greenhouse gases in Rivers State are affecting
the atmosphere badly. Global warning is taking a different toll in
Rivers State. Rivers State contributes significantly to global warming
through the flaring of gas. This is because gas is produced in the
state in every barrel of oil. With the oil production of nearly three
million barrels per day in Nigeria, gas is produced and flared
everyday. This was confirmed by the Environmental Rights Action (ERA)
and the Climate Justice Programme (CJP) in 2005, which was
systematically analyzed that gas flaring in Nigeria is hazardous.

Since the World Environment Day was created by the United Nations
General Assembly in 1972, Rivers State which was created in 1967, has
not been fair with environmental pollution. The 5th of June every year
set aside as World Environment Day, has not helped matters. As the
principal vehicle for stimulating world-wide awareness about the
environment to enhance political attention and action, the World
Environment Day was created by the United Nations General Assembly
2007 celebration of climate change was themed: “climate change”. The
world held a conference at the polar city of Tromse in Norway. This
was in view of the hot topic of melting ice.

Reports are that scientific evidences to the climate change was as a
result of inimical human activities for economic gains. This has
affected the temperature, causing oceanic heat and the sea level is
increasing gradually. As part of the Niger Delta, Rivers State is
subjected to flooding due to the overflow banks of rivers. What River
State has just seen in February 2011, had been a prediction that there
would be rise of sea level caused by climate change in the Niger
Delta. The problem now is that the lowlands of the area shall be
exposed to higher risks with flooding, causing salt water to flood
coastal lands culminating to infertile lands for agriculture. Asia,
Europe and South America are also experiencing heavy showers and
storms since 2002. The United States is also experiencing severe
drought.

According to an editorial in the journal Science: sea levels have
risen 10 to 20 centimeters (four to eight inches) in the past century,
and more is in store for us. (Awake, 2005). Awake, 2003: Parts of
northern Africa have been experiencing devastating drought since the
1960’s. Researches have proved that since a layer of ice and snow
reflects sunlight, the melting of ice and snow will cause more
sunlight to be absorbed, compounding the greenhouse effect. In the
tropics, more water will be lost by evapo-transpiration. This will
increase total cloud cover and rainfall. And at the Trans-Amadi
Slaughter, the main abattoir of Port Harcourt, animals are killed in
the open, their blood spill into the waterways and their skin is
burned by the flames of old tyres, according to a report on nairaland,
which creates thick clouds of black smoke over the city. Fish had
been the traditional source of protein in the Niger Delta, but as fish
stocks have dwindled due to pollution from the oil industry and over
fishing, meat is becoming more common. As this happens, one wonders
what the Rivers State Ministry of Environment, joined the world in
celebrating the 2008 World Environment Day at the main bowl of the
Alfred Diete-Spiff Civic Centre in Port Harcourt, as National Point
newspapers 06/10/08 has it.

According to the paper, the celebration tagged, “Climate Change, Kick
The Habit: Towards a Low Carbon Economy’ was used by the state
government to create awareness on the consequences of climate change
which is one of the obvious results of the general heating up of the
earth’s surface.

In his remark, the chairman of the occasion, Prof. D.M. Baridam, Vice
Chancellor, University of Port Harcourt, said: “We can rightfully say
that Nigeria is fortunate enough to have a moderate weather in most
parts of the country. Climate change and happenings are challenging
our lifestyle and eco-system. Our dependence on carbon based energy
has caused a significant build-up of greenhouse gases in the
atmosphere throughout the universe. Unless we continue to create
awareness on the consequences of climate change, eradication of
poverty and promoting normalcy and political stability will be hard to
achieve. We must beat the carbon habit. We need to give a human face
to environment issues and empower ourselves to become active agents of
sustainable and equitable development, promote the understanding that
communities are pilot in changing attitude towards environmental
issues”.

Governor Amaechi, represented by Mr. George Priye, Commissioner for
Budget, said: “The World Environment Day celebration is to reflect on
the importance of environment and simulate political attention and
action on our collective sphere. We have to impress on public and< br/>private organizations to give a human face to all developmental
actions, to issues of energy consumption and products of carbon in
this section of the earth. Individuals can also join to keep the
environment clean by the green tree planting campaign.”

The Commissioner for Environment, Mr. Kingsley Chinda: “We want both
primary and secondary schools to begin the formation of environmental
clubs. The schools present here should nominate their representatives
with their leading teachers being in charge. All the schools in Rivers
State will have environmental clubs, which the Ministry would be aware
of…Something has to be done to safeguard our environment.” (Chinda
said this in a chat with journalists after the programme).

However, Amaechi has attributed problems in the oil and gas sector in
the country to faulty policy frameworks, in an indication at a dinner
for delegates to the first Port Harcourt International Oil and Gas
Summit organised by the State Ministry of Energy and Natural Resources
at Government House, Port Harcourt. (The Tide; Nov 19th 2010). The
governor through his deputy, Engr. Tele Ikuru, regretted the wastage
of the nation’s abundant gas endowment through flaring, saying it was
ironical that scarce resources are still spent on the purchase of the
product for cooking and other uses, expressing the hope that the trend
would soon change. Earlier, the Executive Director of Nigerian
National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), Mr. Abiye Suku, congratulated
the administration of Governor Amaechi for being the first to organise
that summit, advising that the State Government should assemble its
indigenous oil professionals to fashion the way forward in the
industry.

Rivers State, as a human community, cannot run away from climate
change created by human activities. But this could be halted, as
climate change is a global problem. Rivers State must put all hands on
the deck to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. Rivers State has to
follow the outcome of the convention of the Earth Summit in Rio de
Janeiro in 1992, which midwives the Framework Convention (FC), which
is an environmental treaty signed by leaders from 155 (now 166)
countries at the earth summit (Nilsson and Pitt, 1994). Rivers State
should remember that ten years later, in Johannesburg, South Africa,
the world summit on Sustainable Development was held; and these
conferences have done much to bring about a general consensus among
scientists and policymakers with regard to climate change.

Even though that observers have said that there has never been a cut
down in green houses after the conferences, Rivers State must remember
the axiom that, those seeking for equity, must come with clean hands.
As a state at risk of flooding in 2011, Rivers State should stop gas
flaring and act fast to complement other genuine efforts to stem the
tide of the changing climate. Individuals, should as a matter of
urgency, join hands in this effort, to persuade government to stop oil
companies from flaring gas in the region.

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