…#Stopthesoot campaign to sue UN
By Innocent Eteng
Failure to take state-level actions aimed at ending the black carbon (soot) that has blighted Rivers State since 2016 is having an economic bite on the state, the National Coalition on Gas Flaring and Oil Spills in the Niger Delta (NACGOND) has said.
The coalition of over 24 environment-based civil society organisations says given the present poor air quality in the city, one cannot, with clear conscience, advise investors to come in and risk their lives and those of their families to the killer particles.
“If we are looking for tourism, if we are looking for investment in Rivers State, the matter of soot must be dealt with and then we can now proclaim to the world, ‘yes Rivers State is a haven for investment. Yes Rivers State is a place to visit’.
“But for now, I cannot with conscience tell somebody to come and invest in Rivers State when they (investors would) come here and find out that their lives and those of their children and wards are not sustained,” Edward Obi, the National coordinator of NACGOND, said.
Obi made the statement during an interview with BusinessDay in Port Harcourt, when NACGOND launched its policy framework and action plans on climate change for Niger Delta states. Soot is one of the outdoor air pollution that the World Health Organization (WHO) says kill at least seven million people every year, globally.
It comprises several liquid and solid gaseous particles including burnt acids, metals and chemicals. The Port Harcourt situation is linked to long and sustained acts of gas flaring, illegal oil refining and bunkering, uncontrolled emissions from industrial plants and obnoxious acts of burning tyres and other fumes-emitting substances.
The situation in Port Harcourt is particularly worrisome because the soot particles are as tiny as “a thirtieth of the diameter of a single human hair, which allows it to enter into people’s lungs easily and deeply when they breathe in dirty air,” says Bhekisisa, a health-specific department of the Mail and Guardian in South Africa.
This implies that the particles are below PM (particulate matter) 2.5, which is an extremely small size of the haze, violating the WHO’s air quality guidelines.
Health conditions traceable to the soot include different kinds of cancers, asthma, respiratory infections, bronchitis, birth defects and several lungs-related ailments.
A recent study done by Agnes Fienemika, a consultant pediatrician, shows that between 2016 and 2017, respiratory infections among under-five children in Port Harcourt rose to nearly 50 per cent.
Obi described as “absolute rubbish” the excuse by the Rivers State government that the bucks of stopping the soot entirely fall on the federal government that regulates activities in the oil sector and controls security personnel whose detonation of illegal refineries emit dark clouds of carbon.
“We are tired of hearing that ‘this thing is (in the) exclusive list’. That is absolute rubbish. So why are you legislating? You are legislators to care for everything including the environment of your state and you can legislate on that and sue any company that is not doing the right thing according to your legislation,” he said.
But responding, the Rivers State government said it has taken measures to stop activities leading to carbon emissions. He said, for example, the government took certain suspects who allegedly set ablaze thousands of tyres seized and piled (by a government task force) at the flyover axis of Mile One in Diobu, about three months ago, to court.
“The government took them to court because putting the tyres there does not mean that people should go and set fire on them. These are people who look for materials like copper in the burnt tyres,” said Emmanuel Urang, the permanent secretary at the state Ministry of Environment.
Meanwhile, #Stopthesoot campaign, the citizen-based group agitating that the menace be halted, has promised to take the United Nations to court over its failure to respond or acknowledge receipt of petitions the group sent to it three months back, wherein it asked the global body to intervene in the Port Harcourt soot situation as a matter of urgency. It bemoaned a situation whereby the UN would ignore such a call when Nigeria contributes to its funding and when the WHO has stated clearly that outdoor pollution is the world’s biggest killer.
“If they do nothing and expect us to go the way of the Ogoni clean up, we have no option than to go to court to enforce our rights. We may have to do this in Nigeria and in the United States or anywhere. The reason is that Nigeria is a party to a lot of charters, including the right to clean environment. So we have assembled a team of lawyers and it is not good practice for them not to acknowledge receipt of our petitions,” said Eugene Abels, the convener of the group.