SOOT IN THE AIR: INTERVIEW WITH GLOBAL SHAPERS

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In November 2016, black particles were seen in the atmosphere across the Nigerian city of Port Harcourt, Rivers State. This brought about mixed feelings of fear and anger among residents of the oil hub who perceived this as a clear indication that nothing is being done to protect their health.

The Rivers State Government reacted through a press statement on December 8, 2016, stating the steps to be taken and precautionary measures for residents and by February 2017, a task force had been set up to investigate the developments and tackle the situation.

In a swift reaction to what may be described as a climate revolt, the Global Shapers Port Harcourt Hub (a community of the World Economic Forum consisting a network of Hubs developed and led by young people who are exceptional in their potential, achievements and drive to make a contribution to their communities) has been making efforts to create awareness and promote the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals since the adoption of the goals in 2015.

Here are excerpts of an interview with the Hub Curator, Ebenezar Wikina by the Sustainable Conversations™ team.

  1. Recently, there has been news of polluted air in Port Harcourt. What can you identify as the primary cause of the appearance of soot in the air?

So far, no conclusive report has been released on what exactly the cause is. The reports released by the Rivers State Ministry of Environment so far have stated that the soot is a byproduct of burning carbon. However, research is ongoing to ascertain what exactly the primary cause of the soot is, and as a hub, we are following closely.

2. Which can you say has contributed significantly to this air pollution situation, the residents or the industries, and in what ways?

Many people have blamed illegal refineries, while others say it is an accumulation of gas flaring by the oil companies. We have also been informed of the regular burning of tyres in an industrial part of town. All these add up somehow.

Indiscriminate dumping of refuse might not cause air pollution (soot pollution) but it releases methane, which is equally a very dangerous Green House Gas, and many residents of Port Harcourt are guilty of this and other environmentally unfriendly activities.

3. Would you describe this as a Climate Revolt?

We like the fact that it is making Rivers citizens take their environment more seriously. It is our home and we cannot continue to destroy it in the name of making money. As a Hub, we are leading global advocacy for the Sustainable Development Goals and Goal 13 of the SDGs, Climate Action, calls on everyone to take the protection of our collective home, earth, serious.

4. Apart from the intake of polluted air by inhabitants, are there other speculations of inevitable hazards (medically and otherwise) following the present state of the environment and what are they?

Experts say it could lead to an Acid rain, which we know will have very negative effects on the inhabitants of the city. Medically, inhaling polluted air is not good for the lungs as it can lead to various respiratory diseases as well.

5. What measures has the state government taken to salvage the environmental situation in Port Harcourt?

The Governor has set up a special task force to investigate the cause of the soot and so far, one suspected company has been shut down. We hope we can get to the root of this and identify the major causes as soon as possible. It is urgent.

6. What advocacy step has the PH Hub taken on this issue?

In the heat of the soot, the local authorities did not seem proactive enough for our own standard. This is why we decided to seek the attention of the International Community. The aim of the petition is to:

  1. Urge UNEP to employ its considerable clout to investigate the content and source of this air borne pollutant in Port Harcourt.
  2. Present the report of its findings on the black soot to relevant government agencies.
  3. Galvanize our government and environmental agencies into taking immediate actions to stop the soot.

You can sign the petition here (Shortlink –>http://bit.ly/stopthesoot) to make our voices louder. We are already in talks with the Office of the Executive Director, UN Environment, Mr Erik Solheim and let’s see where that conversation leads.

  1. After the petition, what happens next?

The Goal of a petition is to get the permission of other people to speak for them on a certain issue. We are closing in on 300 signatures as we speak and hopefully UNEP will consider our plea and respond appropriately.

The implementation of the Nigerian Gas Masterplan is one issue on our mind. We will be really excited if this conversation can lead to the abolishment of gas flaring and other forms of air pollution. We hope to see a concrete policy stemming out of this.

As a Hub, we will continue to join other global partners to lead advocacy on Goal 13, Climate Action, Goal 14 (Life below Water), Goal 15 (Life on Land) as well as all the other global goals.

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