World Environment Day (WED) is celebrated globally every year on June 5, to raise global awareness to take positive environmental actions to protect nature and the planet earth. The theme for this year’s celebration is – Air Pollution. Approximately 7 Million people worldwide die prematurely each year from Air Pollution, with about 4 Million of these deaths occurring in Asia-Pacific. World Environment Day 2019 urges Government, Industry, Communities and Individuals to come together to explore renewable energy and green technologies, and improve air quality in cities and regions across the world. China is the great global host of 2019’s World Environment Day Celebration and the country has demonstrated tremendous leadership in tackling air pollution domestically that it can now help spur the world including Nigeria to greater action.

Air Pollution is a global emergency affecting everyone and China will now be leading the push and stimulating global action to save millions of lives. China being the World most Industrialized nation with its growing green energy sector, has emerged as a climate leader. The Country owns half the Worlds Electric Vehicles and 99% of the World Electric Buses. By hosting this year’s event, the Chinese Government will be able to showcase its innovations and progress towards a cleaner environment and also the Nigerian Government through the Federal Ministry of Environment should also present some Interventions in curbing the menace of Air Pollution in Nigeria. Global Air Pollution facts indicates that 92% of people worldwide do not breathe clean air, that air pollution costs the global economy Five Trillion Dollars every year in welfare costs and that ground – level ozone pollution is expected to reduce staple crops yields by 26% by 2030. All these should be a huge concern to us as a country considering that our life expectancy is already low and this will continue to drop looking at the quality of air we breathe and we cannot stop breathing but we can do something about the quality of air that we breathe.

As this year’s theme focuses on the Air pollution reduction principles such as the use of renewable energies and green technologies, use of renewable natural resources, combined with efficient supply and use of fossil fuels with cleaner technologies, will help reduce the environmental effects of energy use and help Nigeria replace the existing, inefficient fossil fuel technologies that pollute the environment. Nigeria is one the highest emitters of greenhouse gases in Africa. The practice of flaring gas by the oil companies operating in the Niger Delta areas has been a major source through which greenhouse gases are released into the atmosphere and carbon dioxide emissions in this area are among the highest in the world. The use of renewable energy sources will reduce the over dependence on the burning of fossil fuel. The link between fossil fuels and droughts or rising sea levels is not immediately apparent, but as the soot in Port Harcourt shows, fossil fuels have more visible and immediate environmental effects. From the US to China, countries that have relied on fossil fuels for most of their energy needs have typically experienced harmful air pollution in their biggest cities. These air pollution issues leads to respiratory and other health problems for the population – London’s Great Smog of 1952 led to as many as 12,000 deaths. As Nigeria’s population grows and more people move to cities, continued reliance on fossil fuels will lead to similar air pollution issues in our cities.

Nigeria cannot afford to ignore climate change in its quest for economic growth. It needs to power that growth without damaging its environment. The argument is more convincing as the on-going decline in renewable energy costs means that countries no longer have to choose between protecting the environment and growing their economies and it is the route Nigeria must take for sound environmental sustainability.

As we mark the World Environment Day today, another area that air pollution has assumed an alarming rate and dimension is on the open and uncontrolled burning of Municipal solid wastes in various waste dumps littered all over the crannies of most cities in Nigeria. The current practice is that unsegregated waste streams leaves the various households through the local waste carriers using mobile carts and finds itself in heaps and mounds of refuse. At a certain temperature the wastes ignites itself and generate thick continuous smokes which envelopes a large area and reduces visibility even amongst motorists plying a nearby road. The smoke composition of the dumpsite fires threaten the health of residents of the area especially the dumpsite workers that are regularly exposed to the thick smoke as they come down with lungs and respiratory related diseases over time. This calls for urgent need to develop better practices with regards to Municipal solid waste open dump site operation and emission controls by ensuring that wastes are segregated properly at the generation points and transported to a proper waste management facility such as green Incinerators which can burn the waste, reducing it into ashes that can be used for agricultural purposes and road tarring while giving out clean emissions to the atmosphere thus eliminating air pollution.

The Computerized Vehicle Inspection System by the Vehicle Inspection Officers (VIO) in some states of the Federation is highly commendable and should be embraced by the remaining states yet to key into it. It is one of the Government Traffic and Road Transport Regulation systems put in place to monitor the road worthiness of our vehicles and they put vehicles with very high emission rates off our streets and highways during such checks thereby contributing substantial efforts in ensuring that the rate of air pollution from such sources are drastically reduced. Monitoring of these vehicles on our high ways should be intensified by engaging more officers to regularly patrol the motorways and clamp down on vehicles with emission rates above permissible limits to improve our air quality.

The Federal Ministry of Environment through her regulating agencies such as NESREA should ensure that manufacturing companies, Petrochemical Industries, Mining and Quarries, Steel Scraps Smelting companies use modern technologies for their plants and maintain good production efficiencies to ensure that their emissions into the atmosphere are within the permissible limits. The Ajaokuta-Kaduna-Kano (AKK) Gas Pipeline project being handled by the Buhari Administration should be given priority and expedited to reduce the volume of gas that are flared in the Niger Delta area on a daily basis which pollutes the environment and in the same vein, the Government planned deployment of Modular Refineries in the creeks of the Niger Delta to replace the Crude and Illegal refining Operations currently going on at the moment that produces large amounts of carbon soot that ravages the environment and creates adverse health impacts should be given a boost.

When all these Interventions and projects are achieved, Nigeria would have added her own quota greatly in the Environment Maxim of Thinking Globally and Acting Locally while ensuring her populace has a BREATHE OF FRESH AIR as we join the globe to celebrate the Environment TODAY

Engr. Ikenna Okonkwo is an Environment Advisor, NNPC CHQ, Abuja.

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