Several decades ago when the story of the shrinking of the Lake Chad Basin first became public not much attention was paid to its implication on Nigeria’s national life but decades down the line, it is obvious that its implications are very grave, BENJAMIN UMUTEME reports
Presently, Nigeria is experiencing adverse climate conditions with negative impacts on the welfare of millions of people. Persistent droughts and flooding, off-season rains and dry spells have sent growing seasons out of orbit, on a country dependent on rain-fed agriculture. Alarm bells are ringing with the continuous shrinking of the Lake Chad Basin, the River Niger among other water bodies in the country. The result is fewer water supplies for use in agriculture, hydropower generation and other users.
Therefore, when stakeholders in the water, mining, and energy sector gathered in the nations’ capital, it was to address what is obviously a time bomb that is almost about to explode.
Speaking at the engagement on contextualizing Nigeria’s water resource management in mining and energy policies, the Executive Secretary of Global Rights, Ms. Abiodun Baiyewu, stated that the greatest threat to Nigeria’s national security is access to clean potable water.
Ms. Baiyewu noted that from all indications, the threat is already tearing at the very fabric of Nigeria’s nationhood with the many conflicts it is facilitating.
The inordinate price of climate change
According to Abi as the Executive Secretary is fondly called, “The dramatic shrinking of Lake Chad in less than 40 years to 1/10th its size, the recent announcement of the shrinking of Goronyo dam in Sokoto to 1/10thits size as well, the rapidly shrinking Kaduna River, River Niger, and even River Benue; the literal overnight disappearance of the Kara market waterfront in Lagos, are all ominous signs of the fate of this natural resource in Nigeria – and it is true that it is largely due to climate change.
“Climate change comes at an inordinately great price for countries close to the equator, countries like Nigeria. The rapid drying up of our groundwater creating an arid belt in the North, the displacement of water bodies resulting in flooding in other parts of the country, the loss of our rainforest and biodiversity and rise in temperature are crowding the little land we have for the prosperity of our teeming population.
“Speaking about “crowding” and “teeming populations”, it is projected that Nigeria’s population will have more than doubled by 2050 to 450 million persons! Our arable landmass will not expand–or at least has not shown any sign of doing so. So while climate change is drying up the soil and water bodies in the North, pushing populations and economies to the Middle Belt of the country, flooding, erosion and the encroachment of the sea will push the population in the South to the Middle Belt as well. And it will be sooner than we think.
“Already the South-South contends with pollution of the Creeks and its rivers which has resulted in the loss of livelihoods for millions of Nigerians and is largely responsible for the security challenges encountered in that region.
Nigeria’s emerging water crisis
The Global Rights Executive Secretary pointed out that “The Boko Haram crisis, the Herdsmen-pastoralist communities’ crises, the Kaduna crisis, and even the Zamfara massacres are all linked to Nigeria’s emerging water crisis. While we ascribe religious and ethnic colorations to them, we must all admit that an underlying currency in their fueling is access to water resources.
“These communities have lived together for centuries, but their rapid population growth, the dwindling of green areas and water bodies have introduced tensions not before encountered. As our population grows, these tensions will get worse.
“Needless to say, if we must protect our territorial integrity, therefore, we must protect our water bodies. But it is not that simple. Conflicting national interests contend with our ‘water interests’.”
The power challenge
Nigeria is a power poor country, and this state of affairs has greatly impacted our development. Our failure to provide power to our teeming population has been one of the greatest threats to the ease of doing business in Nigeria and perpetuated the penury of millions.
Less than half of our population is connected to the grid. Less than half of the people connected to the grid enjoy a steady supply of power. Our industries have died, healthcare is in shambles, and our sheer productivity potential is daily whittled away because of our energy poverty.
The nation needs about 200,000MW to meet its current energy needs. Currently, it generates about 4500MW–an estimate that is regularly contested.
Even at that, it loses about 50 percent of what it produces to an inefficient transmission grid and moribund distribution. According to the World Bank, Nigeria loses about $100 billion annually due to its inability to supply sufficient electricity.
When the oil market went belly up in 2014, Nigeria decided it was time to diversify its economy and deal with its energy crisis. So what did we decide – to base our economy on mining and agriculture?
Two sectors with seemingly high potentials to deliver the country from poverty and provide a fulcrum for development.
Alongside these economic priorities, we decided that one of the best ways to tackle our energy crisis, was also diversifying our energy sources–we added a 30 percent estimate for coal to our energy mix.
The economic approach I have just stated carries a huge disaster potential for our national security and might actually further plunge our people into poverty.
First of all, mining is a water-intensive activity that requires access to a lot of water. The water needs of mining companies and artisanal miners will always challenge the conflicting needs for potable water of their host communities.
We have seen in time and again in the course of our work how this is so. In 2013/14, at the height of the Jos crisis in the Jos plateau, we had to carry out an assessment of mining host communities across Nigeria.
Naturally, I had to visit Jos. It was in the course of that visit that we realized that deeper than the ethnic sentiments and religious coloration, was the dynamic of pastoralist communities, agrarian communities, and miners and their contention for natural resources – especially water and arable land. We have since that time also watched the growing tensions in other mining communities across the country for exactly the same reasons.
The coal dimension
Coal adds an added dimension to the mining, agriculture and energy dynamics. While the rest of the world is divesting from coal, Nigeria has decided that it will generate 30 percent of its energy needs from coal energy!
The reason for the global divestment is simple: coal energy is not environmentally sustainable! Beyond the CO2 carbon emissions that are contributing the depletion of our Ozone layer, its impact on the soil and water in the communities from which they are being harnessed has proven to be more than its opportunity costs.
Germany, the world’s technology and science giant reels in the aftermath of its coal energy revolution.
While people are quick to point out that coal helped Germany’s economy to grow, it might as well be helping it to die. Lusatia in East Germany now buys water from the Central government had lost its water resources to coal. River Spree is in danger as we speak and even all mighty Germany cannot figure out how to deal with this challenge in a cost-effective manner, even if at all.
To put it in context, when I was a child, my mother had spent extended periods doing official work in Germany as she had in many other countries. Each time she came back, she would tell us about the countries in which she worked. Germany has stuck out as funny to me then. She spoke about how people drank beer more than they did water. I was scandalized. She told us, they didn’t have ‘good water’.
As an adult, in retrospect, she probably had been talking about the growing water pollution problems confronting that country. A problem my juvenile romantic mind could not fathom.
Our neighbour–South Africa is also struggling under the weight of the cost of reclaiming coal mines at the staggering cost of $4.2 billion for the damage done so far.
India and China the coal power giants are divesting. China has since built the world biggest solar farm on the sea and is planning on building more. India is following suit, both countries speaking about their energy future for the next 50-70 years. Which way Nigeria? What is our long term energy plan?
In 2015, Global Rights in partnership with the Heinrich Boell Foundation carried out research to measure the impact of Nigeria’s coal renaissance. And to say the least, the results were shocking!
From Kogi to Gombe, the problems are the same- Nigeria is beginning to suffer environmental devastation from coal even before power generation has commenced! A recurrent problem in all of these communities, however, was water pollution. Contrary to popular belief, water is not a renewable resource!
Addressing the conundrum
Realizing this trend and its correlation to security and human rights, how can we leverage the protection of mining communities, national development, energy, security, and water?
“How do we create a platform for dialogue for the core stakeholder to deliberate and develop a joint action plan for preventing a disaster that might just happen if we do not stem its tide? The Niger Delta’s crisis will be child’s play if we don’t act fast and now,” she asked rhetorically.
The convener of taking Back Nigeria, Jaye Gaskia, opined that there is a need for the government to focus its water policy in a way that it generates revenue for the country.
“Under the mining laws, the only reference made is to the water administrative which revenue generation is. That is to say if you are going to establish a mine you are going to use water (you will need to get water use permit) which is a way of generating revenue but in this case, it says absolutely nothing.
“Then how does Nigeria compete with other host countries and how will the water be replenished if it is not given the proper attention? It is silent on water resource management and silent on avoiding a crisis as well. For me it is a very big gap,” he said.
He further urged the federal government to focus its policy more on “water conservation and efficient use of it so as to get a solution to the situation at hand.”