Dr. Joseph Onoja, Director Of Technical Programmes, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF), during a tweet chat held on Wednesday, April 22, 2020 to commemorate the year’s Earth Day, addressed varying issues related to the environment and health, including the current Covid-19 pandemic
What are the major causes of air pollution in Nigeria?
The major causes of air pollution are gases from exhaust of cars and heavy-duty trucks, indiscriminate burning of garbage, burning of fossil fuel (mostly crude oil), also from industries. We could also include burning of fuel wood, bush fires and sand storm. Although sandstorms are more localised to the arid regions and are natural, unlike the aforementioned, which are caused by humans.
Is there any connection between air pollution and Respiratory Tract Infections (RTI)?
Absolutely! It even goes beyond just the respiratory tract infections, but affects other organs like the heart causing blockage of the arteries and the brain causing stroke. Air pollution has been estimated to kill over seven million persons each year, through complication from RTI. This is because the respiratory tract is the channel where air, which is the source of oxygen passes into our bodies
Are there government regulations on air quality in Nigeria, and how has this measured up in delivering clean air?
I am aware that there is, but enforcement has been the issue with many policies (especially environment) that we have in Nigeria. Because of inadequate or lack of enforcement, a lot of violations are recorded on yearly basis. This lack of enforcement has incapacitated the regulations to meet to deliver on clean air and adjust to tackle present realities. We are willing to work with the relevant authorities to ensure the enforcement of all our environmental policies.
Are there provisions made to reduce the rate of RTI caused by charcoal-induced cooking in women and children in Nigeria?
I am aware that various government and private interventions on clean cooking stove have come up and there has been efforts to correct this. However, there are many dimensions to this as sometimes even the people are reluctant to embrace the new method. There is need to rethink and re-strategize on whatever clean stove initiative that has been done before so that not only will it be made available, but the affected people will readily accept it. There is need for serious enlightenment.
Why do you think Nigeria is laid back in the transition from fossil fuel economy to clean energy economy? Also, what is the way forward?
I will say the political will to do so. This is said because there has been regulations dating as far back as the 80s and earlier, but we continue to shift the goal post with its attendant effect on the environment and human health. Another factor maybe the immediate huge investment involved in the facilities that will stop such flares. But this has greater economic, environmental and health benefits in the long run. The way forward is that I will suggest the government of the day to see what it can do to enforce that because it is part of Nigeria’s NDC to the Paris agreement.
How can the private sector and individuals key into the green/clean energy innovation and make it readily available and affordable in Nigeria?
This is fertile ground. An opportunity for corporate entities to invest their CSR funds in. It cuts across the thematic areas of Health, Environment, Human development and socio-economic well-being of the vulnerable population. By looking at this challenge from that point of view, it frees up funds that could be invested in this area.
What practical approaches can we adopt to combat the open wildlife markets in Nigeria, considering the enormous amount it generates globally?
If anytime at all, this is the time for us to take on this headlong. Combating illegal Wildlife trade is indeed a global challenge apart from the fact that it destroys the wildlife population, it is also a source of livelihood to some people. Therefore, it is important to take calculated steps to closing down wildlife markets. First, we must engage the perpetrators and then if that does not yield the desired result, then the full weight of the law must be applied. We also need intelligence gathering, this is because in closing the open markets, they will go underground and continue their nefarious activities.
Asides the adverse effects of illegal wildlife trade on biodiversity and health, are there social vices that can be linked with this act?
Yes. It denies the local communities where these wildlife are sourced from their livelihood in terms of food, medicine, cultural values etc. When these are no longer available, the able bodies youths will go into other vices. Women and children are exposed to longer distances to get some products readily available thereby depriving of time they would have used for other better endeavors to improve their lot.
What are zoonotic diseases?
These are diseases that are transmissible from the animal population to the human population. They maybe docile in the animal population, but virulent when it crosses into the human population.
Considering the spread of zoonotic viruses like COVID-19, what solution does nature-based approach offer?
Nature has provided all these services for human enjoyment and satisfaction, which exists in a delicate balance. The moment humans try to distort that balance, we find ourselves in big trouble like the situation at hand. Nature has already provided the solution for us. It is left for us humans to respect and go along with the solution. A typical example is the solution #Vultures provide for us in cleaning up the environment before we get infected from cholera, tuberculosis, botulism etc. When we kill them, dogs and rats step to do the cleaning they are not well equipped to and they bring it into the human population thereby exposing us. So, nature has already provided us with the solution, Let us respect it!
Will the COVID-19 pandemic spur people to have a change of attitude towards wildlife/wildlife trade?
It is my hope and prayers that at the other side of this pandemic, we all would have learned to respect our lines and consider this a dress rehearsal of what can happen if we continue to mess with mother nature. This pandemic gives individual, communities and governments the opportunity for us to rethink our lifestyle as it relates to Mother Earth. Let us realize that we have a right to a healthy environment, but we must be responsive and take responsible actions. Let me use this opportunity to join the call by Patricia Zurita @BirdLife_CEO led @BirdLife_News call on @antonioguterres to declare healthy planet is #UNhumanrights #1Planet1Right.
Among the conservationists, are there plans for post COVID-19 resilient action for wildlife and host communities?
The pandemic has got a lot of people thinking of different ways of doing things and how the vulnerable population will emerge on the other side of this pandemic. Conservationists are not left out. I am aware that some funding bodies have already started setting up funds for such support for vulnerable communities as a result of conversations with and within conservationists. I am optimistic that more of such plans will come up as we emerge from this pandemic
COVID-19 has disrupted global meetings for climate change, how will this disruption affect nature and conservation efforts in Nigeria?
It has disrupted physical global meetings, but many of those meetings have moved online where tremendous progress is being made. For instance, we had a very important and strategic meeting today hosted by @FMEnvng @sharon_ikeazor and @UKinNigeria using the #EarthDay2020 to discuss on the environment, #COP26 and other related issues. So, conservation efforts are ongoing, howbeit slow, but progress is being made even with the constrain that the pandemic and put on us.
How informed are Nigerians about the concept of climate change and its effects?
Climate change as a concept may not be understood by the lay man, but when broken down into the day -to- day effects of it, they can easily relate to it. So the answer has more to do with the manner of communication than the concept itself. For Instance, when you explain the phenomenon to a local farmer in terms of what he can relate with – rainy season (timing and duration), he will school you because he has been observing it. So, to that extent, people are aware.
Would you say that the outbreak of coronavirus has caused a slope in climate discussion or has it helped to shift the world focus to environmental issues?
On the short term and temporarily it has. But on the long term, this is a discussion we will be having and a frank one at that. This just goes to show that nobody is isolated from the effects of climate change when it happens. The reality of the world being a global village and highly connected is not just in technology, but in nature as well.
In what ways can individuals contribute to climate solutions?
This is an important part of this discussion because sometimes as individuals we relegate our responsibilities to the government. Individuals should have a change of attitude towards the environment. As soon as that is done, other things will fall in place. For instance, how concerned are we on the way we use water, light, use our cars instead of walking etc. These are simple solutions that are within individual powers to do.