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UN charges Nigeria on speedy Ogoni clean-up, desert restoration

Two UN agencies, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and UN Environment, have commended Nigeria’s efforts at adopting global solutions towards creating a safe, secured and sustainable environment. They, however, urged government to put in more efforts, given the enormity of environmental problems and attendant consequences facing different parts of the country.

Achim Steiner
UNDP Administrator, Mr. Achim Steiner

Speaking at different side events during the ongoing 6th Assembly of the Global Environment Facility (GEF) in Vietnam, the organisations specifically called on Nigerian government to speedily clean up the Niger Delta region of oil spills as well as restore the vegetation of the desert-prone northern region, believing that those efforts would accelerate economic opportunities in the two regions, thus enabling lasting peace.

The side events came shortly after a plenary of the GEF Assembly, on Wednesday, June 27, 2018 chaired by the Natural Resources and Environment Minister of Vietnam, Tran Hong Ha , during which heads of delegations agreed on the urgency of governments across the globe to unite and scale up funding, innovations and ideas to save a deteriorating planet.

Briefing journalists, the UNDP Administrator, Mr. Achim Steiner, who stressed the need for different governments to work more strategically and ambitiously in creating economies that are ecologically healthy, submitted that many countries in Africa, particularly Nigeria, were making great efforts to entrench green economy, even though there were still lots of work to be done.

“Having spent 10 years living in Nairobi, Kenya and heading one of your programmes in Africa, I have never had any reason to complain about leadership from Africa.

“For there is green economy, for there is biodiversity population Africa has already invested. There is a great deal of leadership coming. There is also a great deal of transformation happening on the environment of natural resources of wildlife across the continent.

“I think our greatest focus right now is how to engage government and the economic players on the African continent to allow that transition towards green economy and sustainable economy to form African development planning,” said Steiner, while answering questions on the level of cooperation needed from African countries.

Steiner went ahead to list some commendable efforts by the government of Nigeria to include the launching the first green bond in Africa and investing massively in renewable energy.

He, however, expressed displeasure over the inability of the government to conclude the clean-up of Ogoniland, saying the Nigerian government should also extend its good leadership to the important project by collaborating with oil companies to put in place the remedial action necessary to restore what he described as one of the greatest catastrophes on the environment.

His worlds: “I think in Nigeria we have seen the first green bond on the continent being raised. A couple of years ago, I think we have seen enormous investment in renewable energy and we have also seen a significant amount of financial leveraging green environment into the treasuries and into the financial institutions.

“The other aspect has to do with some of the painful abuses of nature. Nigeria as you know has been struggling to clean up the oil spill in the Niger Delta and it continues to be my deepest hope that the commitment of the government and the oil companies will finally put in place the remedial action necessary to restore one of the greatest catastrophes on the environment on the continent in the near future. As has been tested, I think we have seen good development. So I hope this is another example of a government of the African continent taking leadership role in also addressing that problem in the development legacy”.

Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo, on behalf of President Muhammadu Buhari, on August 7, 2017 set in motion a $1 billion clean-up and restoration programme of the Ogoniland region in the Niger Delta, the implementation of which was based on the recommendations from a 2011 UN Environment report, commissioned by the Nigerian government, on the impact of oil extraction in Ogoniland.

The report found severe and widespread contamination of soil and ground water across Ogoniland, which is severely threatening public health.

The UNDP Administrator further observed that, without putting in place practical measures to achieve sound environmental remediation, all efforts my governments in the country to develop the tourism industry would continue to be futile, because tourists would naturally not like to come to regions where the environment is filthy.

“If you look at African story, without the environment, without nature without conserving it, that tourism will never be achieved,” he concluded.

Also addressing journalists during another side event, Executive Director of UN Environment, Mr. Erik Solheim, sounded it loud and clear that until the desert-prone northern Nigeria is made economically sustainable for residents through restoration of lands degraded by desert encroachment, no meaningful progress would be achieved in ending restiveness in the region.

Solheim also advised on the need to harnessed the huge opportunity in solar energy to ensure adequate and sustainable power to drive small scale businesses in the region that create wealth for the people, thereby reducing occasions that lead to violence.

He shed light on the strong desire of the Assembly to see transformative changes in the quest to restore the environment to support human lives.

Some of the transformative changes that Solheim said the world should expect include the massive use of bicycles and electric cars which produce no destructive emissions.

Another is the total ban of smoking at UN conference areas and hotels, which he observed was achieved in Da Nang City, venue of the 6th GEF Assembly.

Solheim said the change would be achieved under four broad categories of action, namely: tackling the menace of plastic, safety mobility, efficient energy and effective agricultural practices, where chemicals that are injurious to the environment are phased out while adopting organic substitutes.

By Innocent Onoh in Da Nang City, Vietnam

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