There is urgent need to enforce laws on the environment

Willie Obianor, Governor of Anambra State, recently put up an elaborate ceremony to mark the World Environment Day. It was not for nothing. Onitsha, the commercial hub of the state, has the undignified honour of being labelled the world’s most polluted city. According to data released by the World Health Organisation (WHO), the city recorded 30 times more than the WHO’s recommended level of particulate matter concentration. The report said the contributing factors to pollution were “a reliance on using solid fuels for cooking, burning waste, and traffic pollution from very old cars”.

Although Aba and Umuahia in Abia State and Kaduna are three other problematic cities identified for air pollution in the report, there are other towns and cities with peculiar environmental problems, including poor air and water quality, contaminated soil, the presence of radioactive substances, noise, heat and light. Yet, most Nigerians are unaware of the harmful effects of a polluted environment and how long term exposure to it can lead to poor health and eventually death.

Air pollution which is the most prominent and dangerous occurs due to many reasons, including excessive burning of fuels, use of generators, driving and other industrial activities. These activities release a huge amount of chemical substances into the air daily and lower the air quality. Another source of pollution in cities is noise.

Added to this are the annoying sound levels generated by vendors of musical discs and of other wares and by religious places which direct high megawatts of sound to the streets. Regular exposure to consistent elevated sound levels, according to experts, can cause hearing impairment, hypertension, ischemic heart disease, annoyance, and sleep disturbance.

Nigeria has laws that were instituted to check these forms of pollution but unfortunately, they are hardly enforced. Each state has its own environmental law enforcement agency and at the federal level, the agency that is saddled with the mandate to develop and maintain strategies for effective environmental compliance is the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA).

The federal government, through NESREA, developed 24 environmental regulations, which have been published in the Federal Republic of Nigeria Official Gazette. Among these regulations are the National Environmental (Sanitation and Wastes Control) Regulations, 2009, which provides the legal framework for the adoption of sustainable and environment-friendly practices in environmental sanitation and waste management to minimise pollution.

There are also the National Environmental (Noise Standards and Control) Regulations, 2009, conceived to ensure tranquility of the human environment or surrounding and their psychological well-being by regulating noise levels. The National Environmental (Control of Vehicular Emissions from Petrol and Diesel Engines) Regulations, 2010, seeks to restore, preserve and improve the quality of air by protecting it from vehicular emissions.

The environmental regulation designed to restore, enhance and preserve the physical, chemical and biological integrity of the nation’s surface waters, and to maintain existing water uses is the National Environmental (Surface and Groundwater Quality Control) Regulations, 2010. However, these regulations are not being enforced perhaps because the institution has been weakened by inadequate funding and manpower.

It is important for government to understand the real need for a healthy environment and its impact on the nation’s health bills. A healthy environment would definitely enable a healthy citizenry. Yet, up till now, the government has only paid lip service to the enforcement of environmental regulations and this neglect has led to the prevalence of avoidable diseases and illnesses.