Our Rivers Are Dying | Independent Newspapers Limited
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Comment, Opinion

Our Rivers Are Dying

Posted: Jun 26, 2015 at 3:50 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

By Okwudili Uzoka

The fact that most of Nigeria’s river systems are rapidly declining in volume is obvious even to the most casual observer. This has been attributed to a number of factors, principal amongst which are population explosion and the concomitant increased demand for drinking, washing, sanitation as well as irrigation for agricultural purposes, in addition to the infamous “global warming”. This volume decline is underscored by the fact that large expanses of islands have almost daily been cropping up along the entire course of the nation’s foremost rivers; the Niger and Benue, so much so that these sand fills are used as pedestrian crossing from one bank of the river to another, especially during the dry season. There is no doubt that the same problem is replicated all over Nigeria’s water courses possibly on a worse scale, considering the size of the Niger and Benue. 

While the indiscriminate and irresponsible disposal of refuse in rivers, streams etc might well be attributable to ignorance in times past, the same cannot, however, be said in this day and age, what with scientific studies clearly showing the adverse environmental effects of such acts and the innovation of more environmentally-friendly methods of disposing wastes both in water courses and elsewhere. This practice has become so pervasive, so much that hundreds of thousands of floating empty sachets of pure (or is it poor) water and polyurethane packages have become a permanent feature on our river systems countrywide, add to innumerable paper packages, bottles and all manner of garbage. These discarded packages are fast colonizing and choking the entire stretch of the Rivers Niger and Benue as well as their various tributaries, thus constituting a major obstacle to navigation of the water, and obviously suffocating various aquatic life forms in several ways.

Meanwhile, mounds of every imaginable waste from factories, homes, schools, streets, garages, markets, etc. continue to build up along the various river banks during the dry season, waiting for the first rains to tip all of it into the near-dead rivers. The pollution of our rivers has adversely affected domestic consumption in a nation where close to 75 percent of the population cannot access pipe borne or potable water.

As if these problems are not enough, the seemingly intractable menace of the killer-weed (the water hyacinth) and various other colonising aquatic weeds have further worsened the situation by obstructing navigation and suffocating the oxygen and light sources of various aquatic life forms.  Fish stocks have gone so low that fishermen toil for days with little or no catch.

In a country where environmental laws are in place, with every State of the Federation having a ‘State Environmental Protection Agency’ (SEPA) one wonders why the apparently criminal suffocation of the nation’s water courses has been allowed to go unchecked.

The solution to this rot is simple and entails the declaration of a nation-wide state of emergency towards the protection and rehabilitation of our rivers as well as the strict enforcement of existing environmental laws by those involved. The various proposals and efforts at remediation should also be revisited so as to ascertain the reasons for our failures in the past, which have only exacerbated the crises. The next step is to conduct an “environmental audit” as soon as possible in order to identify the various sources and types of industrial waste discharged into the various rivers, followed by a serious effort to educate identified culprits on the relevant methods of handling, treatment and disposal of these wastes, and ensure the full compliance of all on this issue.

The authorities should, also, as a matter of urgency, redouble efforts at providing alternative means of disposing non-biodegradable waste like plastics and polyurethane. These may include in the first instance, landfills and incinerators.