Mr Iniruo Wills, an Environmentalist says the clean-up of the polluted Niger Delta environment is fundamental to the economic diversification policy of the Federal Government.
Wills, a former Commissioner for Environment in Bayelsa, said this in an interview in Yenagoa on Sunday.
He said that the environment in the oil communities had been neglected for several decades by oil firms and the three tiers of government.
He said that diversification into agriculture and other revenue sources being canvassed as a way out of the current economic downturn would remain a mirage unless the environment was cleaned and restored.
Wills said that it was unfortunate that despite the central role played by the environment as a support for life and economic activities the country neglected its environment and failed to preserve it.
He explained that the environment was a common heritage which provides support to mankind as well as the food chain amongst other bio resources in the ecosystem to support life.
The environmentalist observed that the rapid rate at which aluminum and iron roofing sheets and even house paints wear out in the region was an indicator that the atmosphere had high concentration of toxic substances.
“The collective neglect of the environment in the oil communities in the Niger Delta region since oil was struck in Oloibiri is what has led to the current state of the environment.
“The pollution level has gone so high that the environment can no longer support fishing and farming and has eroded the livelihoods of our people who depend on the environment for sustenance.
“And all of a sudden we are talking of diversification, it must be a joke because the soil is polluted and so toxic, so diversification at lease in the Niger Delta cannot happen with the environment polluted.
“I think the stakeholders have to declare a state of emergency on the Niger Delta environment and take deliberate steps to restore the environment to its natural state.
“The toxicity level of the environment is frightening, for instance a pilot study carried out across the Niger Delta states showed clearly a pollution of surface and underground waters beyond safe limits.
“The same study revealed that the benzene gas found in the air we breathe is 1,000 times above internationally acceptable safe limits.
“Despite the alarming results no state government across the region has deemed it fit to extend the scope of the study to cover wider areas.
“The neglect by the Federal Government is obvious but what about our governors who are even nearer to us?
“Since 1999 we have been governed by our own people and we have to hold them accountable,” Will said.
He, therefore, advised that the government should take steps to clean up oil pollution in the Niger Delta and take steps to conserve the environment.
According to him, this is a foundational step before diversification into agriculture in the Niger Delta region could be attained.