February 16, 2022

Opinion: Man as environmental risk enabler


By Omolara Otuyemi

People are the only element that can choose to create or restore balance—Anonymous

I RECENTLY saw a documentary about a photographer aiming to explore the beauty of nature through his camera lenses but soon realised that humans as part of the elements of nature are playing an active role in altering the stability of the remaining forces of nature, which include the earth, water, air and fire.

The documentary showcased how the apathetic nature of humans has begun to have harmful effects on the ecosystem and its inhabitants and other elements of nature, thereby portraying that there is need for stability of all five elements to have a nation devoid of hazards. In the end, the imbalance of one element affects the balance of the others.

While seeing the movie, although strictly about the United States of America where all elements are unfortunately raging in different parts of the country, it can quickly be likened to our country where, though the element of fire is not prevalent, the other four elements; earth, air, water and man are present and unfortunately imbalanced.

Different geopolitical zones in Nigeria have peculiar elements waging health-linked war against their communities, mostly caused by the human element that without remorse pollutes the other elements for gains or due to ignorance.

Environmental hazard, according to the International Encyclopedia of Social and Behavioural Science, is an extreme event or substance in the earth and its ecological system that may cause adverse consequences for humans and things they value. The byproduct of environmental hazard is environmental risk, which deals mainly with health implications that may arise from pollution, climate change, radiation noise, land use patterns, drug use and more.

While in some parts of the nation, land, water and air pollution seem to be an uncontrollable phenomenon due to political and economic structures which have left some sects of people defenceless in the face of a harsh environmental and its effect. Fair enough, in Nigeria, the Lagos State government has been able to curb some of these environmental risks to a minimal level. However, the human element seems to pose an integral problem that consistently creates environmental risk.

From every indication, the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, LASPEC, headed by Dr. Dolapo Fasawe, is evidently focused on reforming the state when it comes to matters concerning environmental risks and protection.

The state government has brought a new approach to environmental risks assessment and management. It has chosen to focus on identifying the risk factor, prevention and dealing with factors that may hinder the process of environmental protection.

Indisputably, the state government has been able to tackle dire environmental issues via the creation of agencies such as the Lagos State Waste Management Agency, LAWMA – to tackle waste management and disposal to reduce risk to overall health); the Lagos State Wastewater Management Office, LASWMO, and other agencies to forestall environmental harms. However, man has continued to pose a threat to the environment via harmful human behaviour that has become a threat to the physical environment, thus creating imbalance in other elements of nature.

The severity of the impact of human behaviour on the environment is, however, measured by the population of the demography and geographic location of those who are exposed to these risk factors, which may include flash floods, erosion, poor air quality, climate change, ailments such as cholera, cancer  and many other consequences. Some years back in the Surulere axis of Lagos State, where a high record of flash-flood was recorded, the gory picture of styrofoam floating on water clogged streets surfaced on the internet. While others blamed the government for its inability to create a proper drainage system, it is, however, important to stress that the havoc of human-induced factors remain huge.

Lagos residents need to understand that the quality of our lives, as human beings, is considered a reflection of the quality of the environment in which we dwell in. Many still seem not to comprehend that the environment which we inhabit, like the air, which we breathe, is life.  Or how else can we explain the attitude of those who persistently make their living abodes an unsanitary and inhospitable environment? It is still common to see people throwing things out on the highways from their cars. On the streets, stagnant gutters still occupy a pride of place next to conveniently-located food hawkers – all the easier for garbage disposal. Even some of the fanciest areas are not exempted – “pure water” sachets (which surely rank very high on the list of the most environmentally-unfriendly products ever invented!), bottles and unofficial garbage dumps circle the gated walls of posh homes and well-manicured lawns. 

This dirty habit is not justifiable in a state where the government is doing so much on environmental sanitation. It is detrimental to our common good. Humans seem to be oblivious of the environmental risk that looms and may wreak havoc, if not properly attended to. With the springing up of different production companies discharging harmful chemical, physical or biological agents into the atmosphere, the adverse effects of this contamination are the alteration of the natural character of the atmosphere either by, open defecation, improper disposal, burning fossil fuel and other environmental risk trigger factor which may trigger climate change.

The contamination of the atmosphere is responsible for trapping the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. So, most of the time, when man complains about heat, it is a result of our collective actions. Perhaps, if single use of plastic, the number one enemy of the ecosystem, is tackled, maybe, the nation may just be on its way to sanity. Single use plastics have swamped the market space and due to its inability to decompose, it plays a contributory part to environmental risks. Perhaps if the Federal Government intensifies its quest to create alternatives to single use plastic, humans will rightly evolve with the change.

The decision of the National Agency for Food Drugs Administration Control, NAFDAC, to ban production of sachet alcohol is cheering, aside from forestalling the harmful effect on humans, it would reduce non-biodegradable waste in the society.

The positive effect of an eco-friendly environment cannot be emphasised; it promotes healthy living which will deliberately lessen the cost of living and increases mental health. What happens is that nature is angry it wreaks havoc. We need to change our attitude to environmental issues. The earth, for now, is our home. It is where we live, breathe, eat, raise our children, etc.

Therefore, we cannot afford to destroy the environment because our whole essence depends on it. Consequently, when we imbibe positive attitudinal change towards the environment, we are sure of living free of any pollutants or hazards that we might introduce into our environment through human- induced activities.

Protecting the environment allows future generations of human beings to grow and live without having to deal with anything we have done to contaminate the environment in which we do live and they will live. Protecting the environment is, without doubt, the best way to protect ourselves against diseases and other harmful environmental hazards.

*Otuyemi is of the Lagos State Ministry of Information and Strategy, Alausa, Ikeja