Washing out West Africa’s coastal cities

The 13th day of July will be one day in the history of Nigerians that Lagosians will not forget in a hurry. That day a certain group, the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, a guerilla army in the mould of the Irish Republican Army, IRA, took responsibility for an attack on the Atlas Cove, a federal government jetty in Lagos. As the smoke from the facility billowed in the air, wails from members of the families of those that were killed from that blast rent the air. Nobody knows if what the families of those killed in that blast is anything close to what the families of the 11 Agip oil workers that were also killed by guns yet to be identified 44 years ago in Kwale Delta state. But while the Federal government and the whole nation recoiled from the shock of the attack on the Atlas Cove in Lagos, most oil companies did not seem fazed. Take for instance the Agip Oil Company, the organisation that sent the 11 oil explorers. It metamorphosed into a giant, Eni Exploration and Production after it revved prospecting for crude oil in Kwale, Delta State. Apparently only concerned with the crude oil deposits in Kwale, their activities led to the flaring of gases associated with oil drilling and exploration. Following rampant cases of environmental pollution that even led to the death of Ken Saro-Wiwa, an activist, the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, UNFCCC, commissioned a facility principally designed for the separation of associated gas. The plant was expanded to include a gas processing facility that allows export of dry gas for re-injection at the oil mining lease, OML60. Even though the re-injected gas is supposed to be stored at reservoirs for future use, the UNFCCC found out that the project had no relevance to oil recovery or for the lifting of gas. Therefore, in 2004 it became necessary to commission a small ‘bar gas’ export line to take care of some of the ‘associated gases’ produced at the Kwale Oil-Gas Processing Plant, OGPP. Even this did not solve the problem. Another commissioning of a ‘bar gas’ export line only took care of less than one per cent of the total gas generated from crude oil exploration in Kwale OGPP, probably because it just served as a buffer for gas delivery at the facility. However, while another fraction of the gas from the Kwale OGPP goes to onsite power use, nearly 80 per cent of it has been flared because officials said it was not commercially viable to add another LNG facility just to capture more associated gas.

Perhaps this was why the Clean Development Mechanism, CDM, by the UNFCCC, to take care of gas flaring from oil production in the Niger Delta, has not worked. Take for instance the 2006 validation report carried out by a Swedish body, Det Norske Veritas, DNV, on behalf of the UNFCCC. It confirmed that the current practice in Nigeria is to flare gas. Before the 2006 validation, oil companies have flouted all five government directives, from 1969 till 2008, to construct facilities that should earn the nation a buck from the gas flared and protect the environment into the bargain.

Currently sites in the Niger Delta where gas is flared number in their hundreds. Nnimoh Bassey of Environmental Rights Action, ERA, said that while gas flares continue to hurt the environment Shell’s profit, in 2007, rose to $11.56 billion from $8.67 billion a year earlier. Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest privately held oil company, reported a 14 percent rise in profit to a record $11.68 billion, which was adjudged to be the largest ever for a US corporation. In the first quarter of 2008, Exxon made nearly $90,000 profit a minute.

Gas flared in Nigeria, and indeed anywhere in the world, carries certain toxic compounds like carbon dioxide, Co2, and Carbon monoxide. According to recent United Nations, UN, inventory of emissions of greenhouse gases along the West African sub-region, Nigeria led Ghana, Togo, Benin Republic, Cameroon, Senegal and Cote D’Ivoire, as having the highest incidence of release of Co2, CH4 and Nitrogen Oxide releases into the atmosphere, with 114 billion, I billion, 802 million, 2 billion, 4 billion, 873 million cubic tonnes of Co2 emissions yearly respectively. In 1994, UNFCCC said that Nigeria released 70 billion tonnes of Co2 from energy, 4 billion from industrial processes, another 12 billion from agriculture, and 4 billion from waste. A breakdown of those figures show that of the 792 billion tons of Co2 generated by the whole region, from energy, industrial, agricultural and waste processes, Nigeria contributed 76 percent Co2 than any other country in the region.

Scientists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, PIK, Germany, have said that because there are already too many harmful gases in the atmosphere than it could absorb, the excess has started to adversely ‘change’ average climate conditions everywhere. Jurgen Kropp, head of the PIK research unit, said that if the world does not act now, what anyone used to know as the earth would no longer be recognizable in 2050. A report prepared for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, IPCC, in November 2007 in Valencia, Spain, said that global greenhouse gases, GHG, emissions due to human activities have grown since pre-industrial times with an increase of 70 percent between 1970 and 2004. ‘Eleven of the last 12 years, rank among the 12 warmest years in the instrumental record of global surface temperature. Even observational evidence from all continents and most oceans indicate that many natural systems are being affected by regional climatic changes, particularly temperature changes. In some marine and freshwater systems, there are shifts in ranges and changes in algal, plankton and fish abundance which are mostly associated with rising water temperatures. The report indicated that the case for Africa is pathetic. Between 75 and 250 million people are projected to be exposed to increased water stress due to climate change; while in some countries like Nigeria, rain-fed agriculture will reduce by 50 percent with agricultural produce to be seriously compromised.

But by far the greatest danger that the looming climate change crisis presents to African cities is that they are in danger of being submerged. There are projections that towards the end of the 21st century, projected sea level rise will affect low-lying coastal areas with large populations, and the cost of adaptation could amount to at least 5 to 10 percent of gross domestic product, [GDP]’ an IPCC report said. In addition, regional updates from the United Nations, State of the World’s cities, 2008/2009, reveal that major coastal African cities that will be severely be affected by the impact of rising sea levels include Abidjan, Accra, Alexandria, Algiers, Cape Town, Casablanca, Dakar, Dares Salaam, Djibouti, Durban, Freetown, Lagos, Libreville, Lome, Luanda, Maputo, Mombasa, Port Louis, and Tunis. The report said that Lagos, Nigeria, is particularly vulnerable because of its nearness to the coast and its large population of nearly 10 million who have inadequate infrastructure to cope with the prospect of anticipated flooding.

Experts have extended the risk to the area of health, insisting that with warmer temperatures, African cities, characterized by poor sewage systems will experience a great malaria epidemic. Bjorn Lomborg, adjunct professor at the Copenhagen Business School, Denmark, said recently in a UN-Habitat magazine, that climate models show global warming will increase the incidence of malaria by about three percent because mosquitoes are more likely to survive when the world gets hotter.

In April, there was a spill over from the Bar Beach, Lagos onto Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island. Adesegun Oniru, Lagos State Commissioner for waterfront and Infrastructure tried to mitigate that incident and said that ‘what happened at the weekend at the beach usually happens at this time of the year when the ocean must have risen due to strong waves. Bu

t that is not the only place in Lagos that is already experiencing what looks like the effects of climate change. Residents in Okokomaiko, an inland suburb of Lagos told this reporter that for nine years, they have experienced a gradual washing away of their children’s playgrounds, their streets and houses. Sewage pipes burst every now and then and spills the contents onto the streets. Those who cannot construct mini-bridges from their homes wade through the pools of sewage. The air is filled with a stench as well. Most Okokomaiko residents said that they do not have hospitals or clinics that could take care of the many cases of malaria and typhoid that they suffer from. My investigations however, reveal that their condition is made worse by the fact that most residents did not sand-fill these lands before they built their homes.

But the conditions of life for the Okokomaiko residents is a little less than precarious when compared to other places in Nigeria that are not in Lagos. Against the backdrop of allegations made by Mutiu Salimonu, group managing director of Shell, that gas flaring cannot be stopped because of the huge amount of money needed, this reporter visited Kwale, a site earmarked by the UNFCCC, as a CDM site. Gas from the Agip oil company at the Okpai facility continued to be flared 24 hours. Isioma Madike, a Kwale resident told the magazine that gas flaring has systematically destroyed their once thriving community. ‘These things you see here as rivers are not rivers per se. They are burrow pits dug by the oil companies to fill in the areas that were destroyed by oil spills. As you can see here, we do not have water and light, and we are afraid to drink rain water because the gas brings oil into the water, and has killed many of our people. See those women coming back empty handed from the stream? All the fish in the river have died, and the palm wine tappers are saying that the wine they tap from the trees is no longer as sweet as it used to be’, he said. According to Madike, Agip Oil Company pays an undisclosed hush money to the local chiefs every month. ‘They set up communities that are not interested in the hush funds against one another by providing the guns and small arms with which the communities fight each other’, he said. When this reporter contacted Funmi Goka, head public relations, Agip Oil Company, Lagos to react to these allegations, she did not respond to an email request for an interview. Franny Armstrong, a British environmentalist who made a recent blockbuster movie, The Age of Stupid, said that images of Nigerian women washing fish with Omo detergent before cooking the fish were taken from Uzere and Kwale, in Delta State. That movie generated outrage among participants at the Climate change conference in Poznan, Poland.

But while NGOs like Franny Armstrong’s and ERA insist that gas flaring will be the major cause of the washing away of most West African cities, there is already some kind of friction among some countries in the European Union, EU, to control the stakes in Nigeria’s gas potentials. Early this year, Gazprom, Russia’s gas giant allegedly made ‘mind-boggling’ proposals to the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, officials, to wit, that they wanted to undertake a 2.5billion-dollar investment package in Nigeria. They hinged their interest on the allegation of some officials of the NNPC that ‘the West has taken advantage of us in the last 50 years. They [the Russians] are offering us a better deal. They say they are ready to beat the Chinese, the Indians and the Americans’, an official of the corporation was quoted as saying. Cord Christian, first secretary to the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany said recently that instead of Nigeria to look to the Russians, the country should look instead to the EU, because it has a comprehensive renewable energy package that Nigeria could benefit from. Germany as well as most EU countries depend only on 20 percent of gas for their energy needs, with nuclear [20%], renewable [10%], and coal [50%] constituting a system known as combined heat and power, CH&P. Heiner Wiethoner, an energy expert told the magazine during an international seminar in Berlin in 2008 that the EU is if favour of developing gas potentials because it is ‘clean’ and ‘cheap’, citing the fact that it does not require expensive processes like waste management, and is Co2 free.

Despite this, the likelihood that West African cities are likely to submerge around 2050 remains. This may be because Co2 emissions do not come from gas flared in the Niger Delta alone. In October 2006, a London Economist, Nicholas Stern of Brentford, presented a 700-page review to the British government. In that report now known worldwide as the ‘Stern Review’, Stern said that agriculture practices common to West Africa like the use of fertilizers are the largest single source of emissions, contributing 38 percent of Nitrous oxide worldwide, a colourless gas produced when fertilizer is applied to the soil. For Nigeria, a country that once produced the commodity in commercial quantity before NAFCON, its fertilizer company packed up in 1998, imports of the commodity hit $10 billion in 2000. Even though it used only 400,000 tons of the one million tons it imported in 1999, the rest found its way into Ghana and other coastal cities.

Other reports from the review indicated that worldwide rice and livestock cultivation accounted for 11 and 31 percent emissions of methane respectively, while emissions from buildings that relied on household appliances like laundry, refrigerating machines and air-conditioners and heating machines increased the amount of Co2 by one-fifth from 1990 and 2004. Other areas that the Stern Review said contribute to emissions of Co2 include transport and industry with 14 percent respectively and power with 24 percent.

Emmanuel Oyewo, director of research and head of biological oceanography at the Nigerian Institute of Oceanography, Lagos, said that the rise in global temperatures is responsible for incidences of flooding at the Bar Beach in Lagos. Olusegun Agagu, former governor, Ondo State at a lecture he delivered at the Nigerian Institute for International Affairs, NIIA, early in 2009 said most of Nigeria’s 853km coastline is prone to erosion because of sundry economic activities like oil and gas exploitation, agriculture, aquaculture, fishing, shipping and tourism. Agagu also said that these activities were responsible for the annual erosion rates of places like the Bar Beach [20-30m], Awoye/Molume [13.2m], Ugborodo/Escravos[18-14m], Forcados South Beach[20-22m], Brass Beach[16-19m], Bonny Beach[20-24], Kulama Beach[15-20] and the Opobo Entrance[10-13m]. The result of these activities for Nigeria shows that more than 13 million people are presently at risk and will have to be relocated soon. Already, floods have sacked Dakar, Senegal, prompting Abdoulaye Wade, Senegal president to announce Plan Jaxaay, which entailed the relocation of entire suburban neighbourhoods into thousands of homes built with state funds.

Even when some countries like Germany have spent as much as USD156million on solar panels to mitigate climate change, analysts say that that kind of investment may delay global warming by just one hour by the end of the century. But as other countries are spending this big to mitigate the dread of climate change, Nigeria’s allocation to the ministry of environment is a drop in the bucket compared to other areas like defence and education. For instance, from 1999 till 2007, government allocated N11billion of the total federal appropriation for the environment, representing a paltry 0.18 percent of the appropriation on environment to the total budget of Nigeria. Recently too, the Nigerian House of Representatives passed a bill outlawing gas flaring in places like Uzere and Kwale, but it indefinitely suspended any debate on the looming dangers

that dependence on fossil fuels poses to Nigeria in particular and on the sub-region in general.

Written by
MajiriOghene Bob Etemiku
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