The plight of west Africa: habitats under threat

The environmental situation in west Africa is forcing thousands of villagers from their homes and exacerbating its already-challenging outbreak of malaria, but next week there is one salvation.

In less than a week, the 170,000 residents of Ivoire Hill village, just across the border from Nigeria, will begin building a new population centre in a primary school with a hospital, roads and an oil and gas station to reduce the impact of the receding shoreline caused by an offshore oil and gas drilling operation.

Today, Nigeria and the offshore oil and gas exploration company Sapele Oil & Gas are tackling the problem of the long-term growth of their economic engines, while Togo and Benin continue talks with companies that produce their oil and gas in the waters offshore their shorelines.

According to the country’s environment minister, Ibrahim Jibril, “the hazards of human activity on land, especially in farming, industry and mining” are “the major reason for coastal erosion”.

Farming, which often includes oil palm production, is thought to be responsible for up to half of land erosion throughout the country. The type of oil palm, species namely Kabia holly, is rich in oil but hard to grow and requires large volumes of water to sustain growth. Oil palm produces very high amounts of green matter, which means it is susceptible to loss of soil in large quantities.

Rise in oil palm cultivation pushes animals out of Gbajimba, Niger Read more

Developing tropical areas have long been affected by erosion and climate change, and many coastal towns are often linked to the sinking coastal communities across the length and breadth of the country.

In many places where oil palm plantations have been established, whole villages are being inundated. As a result of oil palm cultivation, various types of crocodiles are also spreading, especially in Gabon, Cameroon and the countries of Niger and Benin, where they are particularly abundant.

In Benin, the four places in the coastal regions of north-eastern Varone, the east of the south-eastern region of Bouca, and the south-eastern region of Dichoro have suffered as climate change has eaten away at the coast.

There is a crisis of migratory nature among rural Togolese, many of whom have left their villages to find work in the cities. Uganda is now the main destination, as Togo builds dams to control flooding in the country, and many of the migrants come to Uganda seeking food, shelter and work. Many of these migrants have little skills and rely on irregular trading in food and commodities. While other “refugees” who are fleeing conflict are finding that there is no relief from the climate change migration – for some individuals or communities, particularly in north-eastern Nigeria, those leading similar migrations are their traditional saviours.

But the government says that it is doing its best to control the environmental crisis, and that the “Environmental Management Strategies for the Brethren”, which seeks to reduce emissions in the private sector, is being given a wide range of support from the ministry.

In the meantime, there has been a growing movement in the government to have what it says is local people carry out the operations. There are thousands of jobs for those that can do them, as well as infrastructure jobs that the government says do not require high skills in sub-Saharan Africa.

One such role is in deep sea drilling in Nigerian waters.

According to the Nigerian coastguard, personnel from the Oil and Gas Research Department in the ministry have been engaged, alongside Nigerian villagers to carry out a deep water survey of Nigeria’s territorial waters.

The port of Bonny Island in Nigeria. Photograph: Oluseye Ojo/Reuters

A Nigerian navy spokesman, Sagir Musa, said that the assessment will include the feasibility of a deep sea oil exploratory and survey vessel and underwater lights.

This is the first of many efforts by the Nigerian government to halt the country’s advancing slide towards a situation that many countries regard as unsustainable.

Almost 35% of Nigeria’s population are estimated to have significant unemployment and depend on subsistence agriculture, most of which are threatened by the country’s ongoing economic slump.

Like the nations of west Africa, Nigeria has high levels of population growth: in the 1970s, Nigeria had one of the world’s lowest fertility rates. By the time of the 2010 census, the fertility rate had increased to 2.4.

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