By way of introduction, desertification is the process by which a fertile land becomes a desert. It is a land degradation phenomenon common to arid, semi-arid and humid areas resulting from various factors including climatic variations and human activities.
It is not mere speculations that many people outside the “environmental niche” are not (or poorly) enlightened about environment issues. They know nothing about how their actions – deliberately or otherwise lead to great (usually negative) consequences to the world they live in. More discouraging is that the youth lead the pack in this subset of, “the environmentally naïve”.
Though statistics reveals that a whopping 63 per cent of the entire landmass of Nigeria across 15 northern states are presently plagued by desertification, the menace did not start this morning.
In 1994, the United Nations General Assembly declared every June 17 as “World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought.” The aim was to promote public awareness of the issue and the implementation of the United Nation Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in countries experiencing it – Nigeria inclusive.
Northern Nigeria, the largest producers of cereals and a significant contributor to the economy of Africa are most affected by desertification. It is believed that states like Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina, Kano, Jigawa, Yobe, Borno, Gombe, Adamawa, Plateau, Taraba, Nasarawa, Kaduna, Niger, and Kebbi loses up to 350,000 hectars of land to desertification annually.
Two other close ties to desertification are drought and deforestation. We have laid a basis for desertification; drought, on the other hand, has been earmarked as a principal cause of desertification. Though seen as a naturally occurring phenomenon that can be attributed to a (drastic) drop in the amount of precipitation over a particular period in a particular place, deforestation – human-induced is an underlying cause. It has been proven by researchers that activities such as deforestation, bush burning, overgrazing, fuel wood extraction and poor management of irrigation have contributed to this menace. The impact of desertification in Nigeria also includes loss of biological diversity, alteration of geo- chemical composition of the soil, global warming, increased erosion, water scarcity, reduced agricultural yield hence, contributing to food insecurity, reduced economic growth among other unfavourable impacts.
“What then is the government doing?” you ask. In fairness, the government of Nigeria has, in the past, put up several combative measures to curb drought and deforestation. Some of such measure s are the signing of UNCED in 1994 and the establishment of State Environmental Protection Agencies (SEPA) in the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. Unfortunately, rather than the expected rejuvenation, these initiatives have been weakened by socio-economic indices, such as, poverty, poor cooperation from the governed, lack of political will, institutional weakness and corruption.
A particular study says, and I agree that the best shot at finding a solution to this challenge would be alleviating poverty to reduce forest dependence, embarking on afforestation programmes, sustainable land use and most importantly, raising awareness at local, national and global level.
In conclusion, a majority of adverse human activity on the environment could be mitigated if defaulters are aware of inherent consequences.
An objective approach will be for us to ask ourselves, “what then are we doing as a people?” The least, effortless contribution one can make to support this campaign is to tell someone about it – raise awareness!
Ogunjobi Oluwamuyiwa Felix writes from Port Harcourt