BY Ofonime Umanah
Bayelsa is one of the nine coastal states and strategically located in the heart of the Niger Delta. The coastline covers about 853 kilometres stretching from the Lagos end to Akwa Ibom and comprising in shore waters, coastal lagoons, estuaries and mangroves, especially. Basically, economic activities in this coastal zone include oil and gas exploration, fishing, shipping, agriculture and tourism. Over the years, activities of humans in the area and natural impacts had exposed the state to varying environmental issues. The environmental problems include over exploitation of fisheries, felling of trees, coastal and marine pollution, oil spills, coastal erosion and flooding, to mention but a few.
The discovery of crude oil in commercial quantity in 1956 created a huge impact on the environment. Though, the exploration of the oil and gas sustains the nation’s economy, the inability of the operators to carry out their activities in line with international best practices causes major environmental problems for the inhabitants and eco-system. The toxic substances, which have been emitted in our gas flares for over 40 years, have exposed Niger Delta communities to health risks and property damage. According to a World Bank report on environment, gas flaring in Nigeria has contributed more greenhouse gas emissions than all other sources in sub-Saharan Africa combined. The Federal Government through its various regulatory agencies however have not been able to stop gas flaring after several deadlines had been set. The oil companies, each time had told the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, of their constraints in meeting the deadlines before the House of Representatives considered a legislative framework pegging the deadline to end gas flaring at December 31, 2012.
Besides gas flaring, oil spillage, could lead to instant death of the fish , wild life and death of the human population caused by explosion and fire. In Bayelsa State, the present administration under Governor Timipre Sylva is rising up to the challenge posed by environmental issues by developing programmes and legislation to protect and conserve the natural heritage. Though, the state Ministry of Environment in the past had taken some measures to address identified environment issues, it has decided to host the first Bayelsa summit on the enviroment, expected to come up with sustainable initiatives that would guarantee development. The Ministry under the leadership of Chief Robert Enogha had initiated a tree planting project and built receptacles in strategic locations in Yenagoa for the disposal of refuse by residents. Also working closely with the State Environmental Sanitation Authority, the Ministry only recently introduced a new measure on refuse disposal that requires residents to dispose their wastes between 6pm and 6am each day.
The monthly sanitation exercise is still being observed on the last Saturday of every month to mobilize residents to clean their surroundings and ensure good hygiene. The summit will also be used to launch the Fresh Air Initiative of the government, a programme that will open a new vista for the state and its people towards a new consciousness on environmental issues. It will also feature the presentation of the state's policy on climate change. The two days event which started yesterday has in attendance relevant federal agencies, representatives of oil companies, Commissioners of Environment from other states and Environmental-based Non-Governmental organizations. For Bayelsa State Government, which has set out to diversify its economy from crude oil to Agriculture and Tourism, the issue of providing a safe environment is key to development. The summit is no doubt a wake up call to all residents and those doing business in the state to see the need to keep a clean environment as a collective responsibility to ensure healthy living.
Source: FRCN daily Commentary