In this report, Odimegwu Onwumere writes that climate change is impacting on the health of Nigerians, suggesting that the authorities have to put the right measures in place to handle its effects through research and enlightenment
Ngozi is a lady in her middle 20s and was a pump attendant at a newly built filling station along the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway by Imo River Bridge, Uzuaku, Abia State.
She was curious to earn a living, but could not bear with the effects of brunt of weather conditions as a result of climate change at her once job place. She was falling ill at every given point in time while her job lasted.
“When it rained, the downpour was usually heavy, making the expressway not to be pliable. Likewise, when it was dry, dust that vehicles raised was unbearable,” Ngozi lamented.
She told this writer that she was always sick when she was working at the filling station, perhaps, due to petrol emission or something, unlike now she is at home. Ngozi was afraid that something was wrong with the ozone layer. “I was always falling sick while at my duty post. I’m not yet okay. The weather is not favourable to me because of the openness of the filling station,” she said.
Many Nigerians are suffering the existing health threats and the emerging ones as a result of climate change. Climate change is intensifying with dimensions in age, economic resources, and location.
As a panelist on a Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) programme, the Minister of State for Environment, Usman Jubril, said recently, “The effects of climate change are felt at every sight of the country. Rising global temperatures would have a catastrophic effect on human health and patterns of infection would change, with insect-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever spreading more easily.”
Dr. Oyinlola Oduyebo, a medical microbiologist at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH), Idi-Araba, said: “There are some infections that occur in season, so naturally if there is a change in season or climate there will have to be changes in the type of infections and in the manner that there were originally known to occur.”
Mr. Kolawole Ajanaku, Head of Department of Environmental Services, Ikeja Local Government Area (LGA), Lagos State, was afraid in a public presentation, saying: “Change in temperature could bring a lot of environmental problems. When sunlight reaches earth’s surface, it can either be reflected back into space or absorbed by earth. Once absorbed, the planet releases some of the energy back into the atmosphere as heat (also called infrared radiation).
“Greenhouse gases like water vapour (H2O), carbon dioxide (CO2), and methane (CH4) absorb energy, slowing or preventing the loss of heat to space. In this way, GHGs act like a blanket, making earth warmer than it would otherwise be.
“But the climate we have come to expect is not what it used to be, because the past is no longer a reliable predictor of the future. Our climate is rapidly changing with disruptive impacts, and that change is progressing faster than any seen in the last 2,000 year.”
Ngozi is one among many Nigerians who are sick as a result of the impact of climate change. The impacts of climate change cannot be overemphasised as they are affecting people physically and mentally, with scientists at the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), saying that the earth’s middling temperature has risen to 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) over the past century.
“All pathogens, viruses, bacteria, fungi and parasites are temperature-sensitive. Furthermore, they have differences in how they reproduce and they infect people and other animals based on the temperature they are living at,” said an Associate Director of the Centre for Health and the Global Environment, Harvard University, Dr. Aaron Bernstein.
The Director, Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET), Joseph Alozie, who was also a panelist on the NTA programme, bared his fears, “From 2015-2016 research shows a reduction in rainfall, which will bring about shorter length of season thereby affecting farmers making them choose which seed variety to plant.”
Alozie added, “There will be further dry spells especially in the northern part of Nigeria. Since November 2015 Nigerians have witnessed drier conditions, stronger Harmattan even in Abuja a lot of dust is in suspension and flights have been cancelled, suspended and even delayed.”
The causative factors of illnesses are related to flooding, weakened infrastructure like the over flooded Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, depleted agricultural production, destroyed livelihoods, pollution, and forced migration.
“The negative impacts of climate change such as temperature rise, erratic rainfall, sand storms, desertification, low agricultural yield, drying up of water bodies and flooding are real in the desert prone 11 front states of Nigeria. This leads to increasing population pressure, intensive agricultural land use, overgrazing, bush burning, extraction of fuel wood and other biotic resources.”
Prof. Fuwape Agboola of the Federal University of Technology, Akure, made the above disclosure early this year during the opening ceremony of the fourth biennial international conference and exhibition on environmental matters (ICEI4) organised by Environmental Research Group of the Yaba College of Technology, Lagos, in juxtaposition with the Centre for Atmospheric Research of the National Space Research and Development Agency (CAR-NARSDA), Anyigba, Abuja.
“Temperatures are projected to rise from 2 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit (1.13 to 6.42 degrees Celsius) over the next 100 years,” Agboola added.
There is apprehension that women and children are chiefly the most vulnerable to the forces of climate change. Recently, the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimated the costs to health from climate change to be linking US$ 2-4 billion per year by 2030, across the world. When this is the case, Nigerians like Ngozi who do not make up to $1 a day, would be tremendously dealt with by climate change due to their exposure to chronic poverty.
Climate change is affecting agricultural produce seriously. Agricultural economist like Dr. Temidayo Apata at Joseph Ayo Babalola University, Ikeji-Arakeji, was among those in this line of thought. Against this backdrop, Nkechi Isaac, a public affairs commentator cried out, “Nigeria is vulnerable to the impact of global warming on many fronts of her geography, climate, vegetation, soils, economic structure, population, energy demands and agricultural activities.
“The country’s large rural population depends on agriculture, fisheries and natural resources such as water, biodiversity and grassland. The adaptive capacity of the rural majority to climate change is very low. The operation of the nation’s oil and gas sector makes Nigeria a major emitter of greenhouse gases in Africa.”
Apata remarked recently that Nigeria is experiencing higher temperatures and when there is poor turnout of agricultural produce, there is bound to be malnutrition. The agricultural economist brought into line, fears to the flooding that ravaged the Niger Delta region in 2012, where households and millions of property were destroyed to the flooding, as one of the climate change impacts threatening the country.
With this, Apata predicted that 30 per cent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP) may be lost by 2050, if severe moves are not taken to put modalities in place in order to dwarf the bad effects of climate change. In the same line, the Minister of Environment, Amina Mohammed, feared that there are natural disasters in the country resulting from weather change.
.Onwumere writes from Port Harcourt, Rivers State