By Dennis Agbo
ENUGU — THE Igbo community self-help initiative was regenerated last weekend when the Igbo Improvement Union, also known as Oganiru Ndi-Igbo, assembled Igbo of different classes to sensitize them on the imminent natural disaster, erosion, which is common place on most Igbo communities.
Though the Igbo has coped with erosion degradation for as long as they can remember, the reinvigorated sensitization on the menace became important since government actions can no longer be the only reliable option for the people to live in a safe environment.
The Igbo Improvement Union is of the opinion that the Igbo should once more exhibit their knock for self-help initiatives in executing community projects which they are better known for, to complement the efforts of government and other agencies.
Leading the sensitization team is the President General of the Igbo Improvement Union, Chief Ugbochukwu Agballa, who said that the Igbo have maintained a lead of community development through self-help. He added that because of the self-help agenda of the people, the South East has developed significant resources which he pleaded with them to exploit in combating one of their environmental disasters, erosion.
Assembled at the venue of the colloquium in Enugu were traditional rulers drawn from parts of the zone, political leaders, the academia, students, the youths, artisans and market women. Exhibitions showing instances of 3000 locations affected by gully degradation in the zone was made and healthy discussions on how to embark on community self-help projects were articulated. An example was cited with Akokwa community in Imo State where the community has been mobilized to recover portions of its land being washed away by dangerous gully erosion. Special commendation was given to Chief Tony Ezenna of Akokwa who was said to be in the vanguard of mobilizing his community to combat the natural disaster.
Chief Agballa noted that the Igbo Improvement Union is a non-governmental organization executing the multi-million project promising the impact will be felt by generations to come. “We have investigated all erosion sites and degradation in the south east and the documentary is emotion provoking. On our own part we will use cashew plantations to check the erosion,” said Agballa. He stressed that erosion devastation is worse than desert encroachment and crude oil pollution “because erosion has eliminated entire communities, thousands of lives and destroyed properties worth billions of naira. It has also contributed to global warming, turned people into refugees and is one of the major causes of child trafficking.”
In his contribution a former Project Coordinator, SPMU-Enugu State NEWMAP, Engr. Simeon Nwankwo said that in southeastern Nigeria, farmlands degradation due to erosion has caused yield reductions of about 30 percent to 90 percent and up to a five percent drag on agricultural Gross Domestic Products, GDP.
Nwankwo identified the effects of land degradation to include damage to infrastructure – several roads, highways, collapsed buildings, ancestral homes and silted waterways, reservoirs and pipeline networks. “Natural assets like productive farmland and forest are lost. Forest and farmland degradation also comprise watershed functions. This process makes worse resultant erosion problems downstream, comprising biodiversity important for upstream livelihoods, and weakens natural buffers against climate risks,” he said.
He also disclosed factors inducing erosion to include deforestation through felling of trees and de-reservation; blocking of run-off routes such as drains; construction of sub-standard/under-sized drains; con compliance to land use regulations; bush burning, clean weeding and mono cropping; non-adherence to infrastructural development designs such as building and road constructions.
Nwokwo also stated that past efforts were made by governments to combat the menace but that they failed.
In a discussion paper, a team of lecturers from the Department of Geography, University of Nigeria, Nsukka, led by Arinze Tagbo Mozie told the people and governments of Southeast that until they commit themselves to controlling erosion in their region, they cannot and should not sleep with their two eyes shut.
“Every project is not about personal gains. The 1999 constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended under Section 20 talks of guaranteeing us safe environment. It is our task to press on this for our collective benefit. The people who must suffer most from environment degradation must move to protect their environment and then call for help.
“This is first and foremost a call for a change in our attitude to our environment. The people of Southeast have to meet and develop a totally fresh attitude to urban and infrastructural development to contain the soil erosion scourge now. The people of Southeastern Nigeria must also answer the question on the problem of food scarcity that must follow urbanization and the high rate of land conversion from agricultural to non-agricultural uses. From where would our food come? The questions are many and the loss of land to erosion especially the gully raises the stakes against the people,” worried the academics.