climate change in Nigeria and water scarcity

How Far, Water Dey? Climate Change, And the Nigerian Thirst Problem

-Habeeb Abdul

Photo credit: Linda Ikeji’s Blog

On the 4th of March, 2021, Nigerian Twitter streets came alive with something new — #NowaterinEnugu. Illustrated with gripping experiences narrated by the residents of Enugu State, the story wasted no time getting on the news. However, while the news might have accorded prominence to the Enugu situation, the water issue is not so new.

With a total landmass of 923, 768 square kilometres, and a bustling population of more than 200 million people, Nigeria’s water resources stretch to the very limits. The country’s geographical diversity is such that water, which may seem abundant in one region, is a much-desired luxury in the other. Northern Nigeria, for example, faces the highest risks of water scarcity. Due to its closeness to the Sahara, the Northern section of the country witnesses incremental threats from desertification and drought. It is also the place where the impacts of sunshine are more acutely felt.

However, while one may tag the North thus, the Southern parts of the country are not spared either. With progressive symptoms of climate change beginning to show, and water management non-existent or dwelling in the bin, signs emerge that the nation will have more to deal with soon. In that wise, this article examines climate change symptoms, water scarcity as it relates to different regions in the country, the effects that these have on national security as well as ways to resolve the crisis in the nearest possible time – in no particular order.

Climate change is essentially the prophecy of doom for the global ecosystem. A few hundred years of industrialisation have resulted in the emission of greenhouse gases, which now expose the planet to severe ecological damage. These gases, such as methane and carbon dioxide, reduce the earth’s natural ability to maintain energy balance and keep the planet habitable. GHGs, as they are known, prevent heat from getting dissolved back into the atmosphere, halting it effectively and spreading the brunt on humankind. In Nigeria, the subject matter, fossil fuels, which are popular brewing centres for GHGs, account for close to 90% of total revenue. This makes them the primary source of foreign exchange in the country, as well as the pillar of economic growth. The cash, however, is anything but free.

Oil exploration and the attendant processes of mining, form the immediate suspects when considering Nigeria’s place as the 17th largest emitter of greenhouse gases in 2015 — the continental highest after South Africa. This figure relates better to the steady rise in temperatures, onset of flooding, bushfires, drought and a host of other environmental disasters.

Examined individually, a rise in temperature is the main cause of aridity in the Northern segment of the country. While the proximity to the Sahara is one factor, climate change enhances that effect further. Heat waves become more pronounced and rainfall is less likely. The effect of this is a decline in agricultural potential. As agriculture in Nigeria is more rain-reliant than it is industrial, the absence of precipitation makes farming very difficult. Where there is rain, the patterns are unpredictable. One alarming indication of this problem in the North is the unprecedented shrink of the Lake Chad.

A disappearance of Lake Chad and many others present a national security challenge as individual communities fight to protect their meagre water resources. For reference, there are herdsmen seeking water and pasture for their cattle, farmers struggling to sustain crop growth, and via the intersection that plants have with water areas, heads begin to butt.

On the other hand, flooding is one issue that this author could tie with the South. It is a known fact that provision of clean and safe drinking water is not a duty that people keenly link with the government and as sea levels rise, the potential for contamination increases. According to statistics, more than a hundred million Nigerians lack access to potable water. In one dimension, the oil-producing states of the country, the Niger-Delta, face the problem of oil spillage in host communities resulting in water contamination and the death of fish. To complicate it further, the Niger-Deltan communities are at a risk of flooding due to the increase in sea levels. For these areas, appeal cannot be found in greasy creeks neither are sips from brown floodwaters.

Emphasising the health risks associated with instances like this are various diseases that have been traced to the consumption of unsafe water. In Enugu, the opening line, residents decry the foul status of the few water bodies available. Although the scarcity in the state is said to be caused by coal — its main resource — it does not help matters that across the country, open defecation affects the quality of water. Should a person embark on an imaginative streak, communities known to practice open defecation and suffer flooding at the same time will no doubt reflect this trait on the health of other areas that are linked by water. Thus, in all parts of the country, climate change reduces the water available for agricultural purposes, economic activities make water dangerous for consumption, while flooding, and the human biology, create health problems for whoever dares to drink. Few things can be more profound.

As it is said that problems only beget solutions, this article will not be complete without the mention of one solution, at least. It must similarly be noted that programmes, such as the Great Green Wall, are currently in action to stem the impacts of climate change in the country. GGW is oriented towards the planting of trees across states in Nigeria’s North to, firstly, improve environmental sustainability and reforest landscapes.

Concerns that must however be emphasised are the poor maintenance of existing water infrastructure, lack of awareness on the need for sustainability, and commitment to protecting the country from the scathing impacts of climate change. Resolution will certainly depend on political will from the government. This is one missing quality whose presence will create ripple effects in other sectors.

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