Nutrition: South-East and South-South endangered by pollution

Malnutrition is widespread in the South-East and South-South zones of
Nigeria. Observations are that malaria, anemia and other epidemics are
prevalent in the provinces. As a result pregnant women, children and adults
are affected to a momentous level. Not even the efforts by the Nutrition
Society of Nigeria (NSN), the respected and official voice of nutrition in
Nigeria, tailored towards sensitization campaigns, have the ugly
occurrences stemmed.

Confirmation to this was made at an organised event to assess Nigeria’s
performance in the ‘Scaling up Nutrition Movement’ in Abuja. Briefing
newsmen on May 21 2014, the Head of Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health,
Dr. Chris Isokpunwu disclosed that Nigeria has been graded second after
India on the menu of countries with the most-terrible cases of malnourished
children in the world of which South-East and South-South were among the
regions with indices of the nuisance.

Without doubt, environmental issues in the Niger Delta region have taken an
irredeemable level caused by multinational companies that are into crude
oil exploration, gas flaring and environmental degradation. According to an
account by the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, unsurprising 1.89
million barrels of petroleum were leaked into the Niger Delta between 1976 and 1996 out of a total of 2.4 million barrels spilled in 4,835 happenings. Other factors prearranged as the causes of malnutrition in these areas were kidnapping
and militancy, which had made the rural dwellers to migrate to the urban
cities to a significant size, thereby downgrading agricultural activities,
an action that has led to drastic shortage of food.

It was evident that a UNDP’s account states that there have been a bunch of
6,817 oil drops between 1976 and 2001. This invariably showcases a failure
of three million barrels of oil, of which more than 70% was not
convalesced. Among this quantity of spills, 69% happened off-shore, a
section was in marshlands and 6% spilled on land. The Nigerian National
Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, puts the amount of petroleum thrown-overboard
into the environment yearly, (especially in the South-East and South-South
zones), at 2,300 cubic metres with an average of 300 individual spills
yearly.

It was, however, revealed in another vein that at New Netim, a small
community in the Odukpani district of Cross River State, a water-healing
plant belonging to the Cross River State Water Board, was enfolded by
darkness of chlorine gas on 5 July, 2007, leading to the death of three
people. Investigation revealed that it was one resident Ufot James who
confirmed the incident and added that a woman and two men were sent to
their early graves in the incident while numerous others were hospitalized. Uma
Echeghe, an official of the water board as at the time, did not sing a
different song. He had said that the gas escaped from one of 24 chlorine
cylinders being used to treat water at the water-pumping station following
a sudden power failure.

Hear the source: “But the official said only one death had been reported to
the water board. Concerned about the safety of chlorine used in the
treatment of water in the state was first raised in the capital, Calabar,
in May when a similar gas-escape affected residential areas in the Ikon
Inok and Ediba districts of the city but claimed no fatalities.” Following
the May incident, Echeghe had said that authorities started chlorinating
water at the plant at New Netim, which was not as profoundly peopled as
Calabar city. He had added that new safety measures were put in place to
thwart analogous accidents in the future. But on the contrary, such measure
was found out to have died on the newspapers it was published.

Most of the farmlands in the South-East and South-South zones are no longer
producing crops due to the unpardonable condition they have suffered as a
result of crude oil pollution. The Ogoni people are seriously trouncing
their wounds occasioned by indiscriminate oil spills. Ohaji/Egbema areas
are suffering the same fate badly. Isiagu rock crush plants have kept the
people of Ebonyi on their toes. Their sources of drinking water are
contaminated. This makes the sensitization by some organizations on the
importance of nutrition a perceived farfetched realization by the people of
the geographical sectors. There has not been a remedy to these menaces, not
even as the Nutrition Society of Nigeria had noted at a seminar in Lagos
through its president, Ngozi Nnam, that nutrition is the bedrock of
development.

There was thinking by the organization that malnutrition is not
necessitated by poverty of the pocket alone, but, also, by poverty of
nutritional awareness, insensitive and environmental chaos, because around
the environments of those regarded as poor people, there are fruits that
can give them the necessary nutrients that their bodies require, but most
of them have been ruined by pollution. NSN had also said that it had
partnered with many organizations among which was Unilerver, to take the
nutrition education challenges that affect humanity across all the facets
of human endeavours.

Scholars like Ukegbu Patricia Ogechi, Onimawo Ignatius Akhakhia, and Ukegbu
Andrew Ugwunna apparently of the Department of Human Nutrition and
Dietetics, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia; and the
Department of Community Medicine, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching
Hospital, took a study of the Nutritional Status and Energy Intake of
Adolescents in Umuahia Urban, South-East, in 2007, they found out in their
research that all were not well with the 190 plainly vigorous adolescent
boys and girls aged 15-18 years with equal sex distribution, who were the
participants subjected to anthropometric measurements viz: height, weight,
arm circumference and skin-fold thickness and energy intake was determined
from individual weighed inventory for three consecutive days including a
week-end day; part of the food sample was subjected to chemical analysis.

According to the results: “All measurements except BMI and arm
circumference had significant differences (p<0.05). Approximately 50% girls
and well over 70% boys failed to meet the recommended weight and height
standards. Over 20% of the adolescents were thin (BMI<18.5kg/m2). The
prevalence of overweight indicated that about 4% of boys and 2% of girls
were at risk of becoming overweight. Similarly the prevalence of stunting
was found to be 67.3% and 57.8% for boys and girls, respectively…

“The result shows that there was under nutrition among the adolescents
though the extent was higher among adolescent boys than girls, body
composition of the adolescents was equally low. Also protein intake was
grossly inadequate in both sexes. Therefore there is a need for improvement
in the nutritional status among these adolescents.”

The South-East and South-South continue to suffer all manner of deformities
in the hands of oil and gas companies in their respective zones. The oil
and gas companies see zero per cent gas flaring as a mirage, but, rather,
are very interested in the quantity of product that will accrue from their
onshore or offshore oil wells, with little care about the environmental
brunt of burning associated gas from oil drilling sites, of which experts
on environment say that the flaring of gas also constitutes a hazard to
human health. They say that gas flaring contributes to the worldwide
anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide.

“For example, oil refinery flare stacks may emit methane and other volatile
organic compounds as well as sulphur dioxide and other sulphur

compounds,
and toxics… all of which are known to exacerbate asthma and other
respiratory problems… flaring at oil and gas production sites may emit
methane, sulphur dioxide, aromatic hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene and
xylenes), as well as carcinogens such as benzapyrene,” sources had said. The
Centre for Igbo Arts and Culture, (CIAC) Abuja, in collaboration with Raw
Materials research and Development Council (RMRDC), Abuja, Michael Okpara
University of Agriculture, (MOUA) Umudike, and National Root Crops Research
Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, on 3rd and 4th May, 2012 took the world by the
tempest to organize a two-day seminar at the Zodiac Hotels Limited, Enugu.
According to the organizers of the seminar, it was aimed to:

Create necessary awareness on the nutritional and health values of
South-East indigenous food plants, draw attention to the real danger of
allowing gradual extinction of many of these species in the South-East
Ecological Zone of Nigeria, explore strategies for enhancing the species
revival and propagation, unveil the secret on longevity embedded in
indigenous foods consumption and utilization, and highlight the
socio-cultural and economic importance of these foods among the people. It
was observed that participants for the seminar were drawn from State
Governments, Federal and State Ministries of Agriculture and Forestry,
Environment, Science and Technology, Information, Women, Youth, Arts and
Culture, National Orientation, Tourism, Women and Youth Organizations. Also
accommodated were representatives Institutions, Tertiary of NGOs and
Co-operative Societies, School students, associations of Small and Medium
Enterprises, Corporate organizations and interested individuals.

The sole aim of the organization was to enhance the revival, propagation
and utilization of the zone’s disappearing food and medicinal plants for
Healthy Living. It was visible that why the South-East and South-South are
suffering untold malnutrition is because of the government and
multinationals crude oil exploration activities which do not respect the
importance of farmlands to agriculture for the recognition and protection
of genetic diversity of food plants. In these times of deforestation and
the nearly extinction of Iroko tree, pundits are, nonetheless, of the
judgment that this giant tree has a potency of curing mouth boils, nausea,
knee boil; wound healing and as an anti-elephantiasis whereas the roots
when soaked in water and drank could relieve headache. But Iroko tree is in
dearth!

The president of NSN, who is a Professor of Public Health Nutrition,
University of Nigeria (UNN), knew the importance of nutrition and had said
that a child that did not get enough nutrition in the first 1000 days is
destroyed for life – academically and health-wise. Hence, many children are
like this in the two geo-political precincts occasioned by pollution. When
Cadbury Nigeria held a tour of the South-East regarded in many quarters as
‘Importance of Nutrition’ in August 2013, after it bagged the NSN
endorsement, Dr. Chika Ndiokwelu, Head of Nutrition and Dietetics at the
University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu, at a seminar in Umuahia,
said: “Proper nutrition also supports the United Nations ‘Millennium
Development Goals’ which focuses on the eradication of poverty, hunger and
malnutrition, as well as on improving maternal health and reducing child
mortality.”

While many organizations in and out of the country have been making
nutrition sensitization tours across the South-East and South-South zones,
government at all levels are not helping matter. In January 2004 the people
of Rukpokwu in Rivers State experienced a devastating burst of oil
pollution on their once fertile and arable farmland. Over four persons were
killed in the area on 3 December 2003, when part of an oil pipeline
exploded. On 5 July, the same fate befell Cross River State, when chlorine
gas said was being used at a water treatment plant, escaped, killing over
three persons. Exploration revealed that the South-East and South-South
districts are having the negative influence of infection on child growth
and high level of maternal mortality rate. The under-nutrition that the
people of the zones have come to endure is causing such growth patterns
and, they are on the verge of experiencing high level of the influence of
more infections including urinary schistosomiasis, hookworm and S.
haematobium.

Written by
Odimegwu Onwumere
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