December 14, 2010

Climate change is unavoidable phenomenon, says Egbebike

By James Ezema
Dr. Michael Egbebike is the Anambra State Commissioner for Environment. He is a civil engineer by training, a land surveyor, a lawyer and an environmental scientist. He was based in the United States and returned the country to contribute to nation building and is currently bringing his experience to bear in the Environment Ministry.

Looking at the issue of climate change which has since become a global phenomenon, how has the impact of global warming has been able to affect the state.

Climate change has become a world phenomenon. In terms of causation, I don’t think the state is a major contributor. I’ll say that the developing nations are not really contributing that much to this climate change.

Must of the contributions have been from developed nations because of industrialisation and heavy commercial activities. I will still say, in fairness to the developing countries, we have not really been involved in polluting the world. Part of the Koyoto protocol was actually to compensate developing countries. When the industrialised nations pollute, they could buy some credit from these developing nations so that these developing nations can have the ability to pollute less.

Dr. Michael Egbebike Anambra State Commissioner for Environment.

Of course you know, the more trees you plant the less the green house emissions and the more industrialised you are the more you emit. Of course, you can see that back here we don’t have really much. We depend mostly on imports and very little on industrialisation.

In terms of its impact, the impact unfortunately gets felt by every body in the world; once the world is polluted, everybody feels it. And you can feel it in the torrential rains that we have; you can now see that our rains come down in heavier downpours in bigger torrents. What that does it that it exacerbates our erosion problem.

But our erosion problem is coursed by the fact that loose soils; what they call cohesion-less soils and we then have these torrential rains. So, the more you depart from norms in this rains the more our erosion situation is being worsened. So, you now find a situation where our gully erosion is developing faster because of the rains getting very heavy.

Our state is impacted and our nation is impacted as you can see that desertification is also beginning to get worse and encroachment a little more. All of that can be attributed to the impact of climate change which is affecting the whole world.

How has your ministry has your ministry been able to mitigate these climate change impact in the state?
We have tried in various directions and the biggest one being awareness. We believe that the more the people are ware of the right things to do, the less the impact because in all of these, for instance in erosion, there are human factors which they call anthropogenic and there natural factors.

The natural factor is the fact that our soil is cohesion-less and that the rains come down in heavy downpours. However, the man made causes include things like roads (constructions). As we build roads, roads and terminate and terminate these roads, we continue to aggregate water, which creates a bigger force and derive more erodibility that breaks down the soil and erosion come faster.

There are other man made causes we try to educate the people on and that is what the awareness is all about.
We also try to combat the ones that already developing and we spend less money to attack them when they are young.

When they are big, then we attack the erosions with our concrete solutions. We also use the biological means, which are the natural means of preventing erosion. You know, there are trees that help to hold the soil together. The idea is that with loose soil and torrential rain, if you can hold the soil together, then you’re helping to prevent the occurrence of erosion.

Of course, if you can also help to disperse the water and not aggregate the water then you’re also reducing the impact of the flood water. To tell you the truth, there two components of rain water when it falls: there is a part that go down vertically into the ground. This don’t create as much trouble as the overland flows, that flow in sheet. These are ones that are destructive.

The more you can reduce the volume or the aggregation of these overland flows the more you can deal with the erosion issues. and you reduce it by not terminating roadside drainages improperly. When you terminate roadside drainages improperly, what you’ve done is that you’ve brought water from everywhere in a large catchment area and you now drop it in one spot.

It creates massive pressure and that starts erosion right from the spot. So, we educate our road contractors because they are the biggest culprits in this regard. When you terminate the drainages improperly without taking it to the appropriate terminus, you create erosion right from there. So, there are various issues we create awareness on. Of course as we’re attacking some, we’re pleading in various ways to the federal government and they have also responded with some measures but not enough yet.

I was going to ask, what is the level of federal government response to the ecological challenges in the state?
We’re lucky to have a President like Dr. Jonathan because when my Governor Peter Obi, one afternoon, with south east governors visited the President, one of their major request was to help them in combatting erosion.

When the Senate came to Enugu for their retreat, I remember Senate President, Senator Mark made a comment that if we don’t help solve the problem of the south east regarding erosion, the south east will one day be swallowed up by a erosion and we might need to seek refuse somewhere else.

We’ve also seen members of the Environment Committees of the House of Representatives and the Senate visit Anambra State to look at the erosion situation. So, everybody seems to have been involved in looking at this problem.

Recently, the federal government devoted some money and I believe that the south east will get about N3 billion towards attacking erosion problem in the south east. Of this money, Nanka erosion is one of those that will be benefiting. Of course we have the flood control in Saka Mori and other erosion sites, the Nkishi water scheme erosion site. Some of these sites will be benefiting from the federal government intervention but these are still at the design stages. We hope that they will be constructed.

Recently, there the alert on the possible collapse of the walls of Nyos Lake in Cameroon and Anambra State was names as one of the states that will be affected should that disaster occur. Are there measures put in place to mitigate the impact of such a disaster which is waiting to happen?

Well, if you noticed recently, communities at the riverine areas of Anambra state were flooded. And my Governor was there to provide succour to the victims of the flood and every year that happen when the river overflows its bank and the villages flooded and farm produce destroyed. When these happens, it can’t really helped.

It’s just nature. So, water can be released from Lake Nyos in Cameroon in a controlled manner so as to reduce the hazzards down stream. The dredging of River Niger which the federal government is undertaking is going to be a major factor because River Niger is going to experience the impact of the flood from the lake in Cameroon.

So, dredging will giver it a little more capacity so that the impact will not as severe as it would have been. If the disaster happens and we have finished the dredging of the River Niger, it will reduce the impact depending on the extra capacity we’ll be creating with the dredging of the River Niger. So, it could be controlled.

I think what we can do is to ameliorate their impact. You’ve seen things (flooding) happen in Pakistan; we’ve seen floods devastate people in the Middle East of Nashville and lake walls destroyed by Tsunamis, you have seen major hurricanes. These are forces of nature and sometimes there is little we can do about them but if we are in control of the flood gates, there is something we can do about it except, of course, to prevent the climate change in the first place.

We can engineer the opening of the gates. I don’t believe that we can wait until the walls cannot take the pressure any more. I believe that the walls were construct to maximum capacity and these are things that needs to be foreseeable. I don’t mind when nature does harm because then we have no control. But to the extent we can predict the force of nature then we have control.

God has given us the knowledge and intelligence to be able to prevent or ameliorate these impacts when they come or to be ready for them when they are coming.

How many erosion sites do you have in the state?

In Anambra state we have more than 1000 erosion sites and you can count at least 500 that are active and I’m telling as at last count because it continues to develop. They develop faster than we’re cure them because in a year, how many can you do? We can create as many as possible by nature, by our individual practices if we do not check it. but the ministry has now risen up to the challenge.

We’re now beginning to bring attention to this matter to make sure that road designers do proper environmental impact assessment and make sure that when they terminate their drainage they do it in a way that it doesn’t cause erosion. And make sure that the people understand that they need to dispose of their refuse properly because if they don’t dispose of their garbage properly it can block the gutters and the flood dynamics changes and these are things that help create erosion. So the awareness campaign is yielding fruit but there is still a lot more to be done.

How has the state of federal roads been impacting on the environment in the state?

You can see when you come into Onitsha and first come into the federal roads, the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway, the situation with that expressway is very deplorable. The drainages have all collapsed, the road surfaces have collapsed and it is an eyesore.

And as a result there is not much you can do because it will be stupid to go and start planting trees to beautify the environment when you have collapsed drainage here and there. The federal government has said they are going to construct it and the contractors are moving at snail speed. Until you know the extent of their construction, of course, you can’t put anything down.

It’s been a challenge for us in the Ministry of Environment that we cannot do anything to beautify our state reasonably because we’re waiting for these roads to be constructed. But I’m hoping that with Presidency of Dr. Jonathan, that something will be done fast. The contractors are there but they seem to be going front and back without meaningfully achieving something.

And we’re hoping that with dry season that we now have that much can be achieved. As far as the state is concerned we need to have this done especially within the towns. We believe that if we’re able to prioritise the roads we can now pay attention to the city segments that would have achieve quite a lot in terms of beautifying our cities so that when we have people come into our cities they can find a beautiful environment.