By: IfeanyiChukwu Afuba
Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano has a classical definition that renders the story of soil erosion in his State pungently in very few words. With sober expression, the Governor tells you that on the map, Anambra State is bigger than Lagos State; but the State’s land mass has by the ravages of erosion shrunk to almost become smaller than Lagos State. And the full impact of the devastation strikes you!
It was a problem that gradually developed with urbanisation and disregard for environmental safety. In the mid 1980s in the old Anambra State, a radio presenter was noted for drawing attention to the threat of erosion with wry humour. ‘The fine face of Anambra State adiromma itu mbo.’ Translated, Anambra’s beautiful landscape should be saved from the pock – markings of erosion.
If the huge human and material cost of the phenomenon is somewhat absorbed by Obiano’s ‘never say die’ spirit; the energy and capital deployed in the fight to reclaim Anambra’s land resources is seen in the activities of some State agencies.
By March 2014 when Obiano assumed office, Anambra State had over 900 gully erosion sites. The administration’s counter against erosion is being spearheaded by the Nigeria Erosion & Watershed Management Project (Newmap); the State’s Ministries of Environment and Works; with a new body, State Erosion, Watershed & Climate Agency, joining the fight this year.
Project Coordinator of Anambra State Newmap, Engr Mike Ivenso, says the Obiano administration has paid N1b of its counterpart fund on the comprehensive protection works undertaken by the Newmap. The tripartite fiscal arrangement involves the World Bank, the federal government and the States, in this case, Anambra State Govt. The World Bank provides soft loan facility directly to the State with the federal government as guarantor.
However, in the context of the State’s many development challenges, there is a constraint on what the State can borrow at a given point in time. The Obiano administration is also mindful about the implications of a future debt burden. It was partly to bridge this gap that it recently created the State Erosion, Watershed & Climate Change Agency. The new entity has as one of it’s mandates to explore additional funding sources for erosion intervention.
Newmap is currently working on 14 out of Anambra State’s 1000 erosion sites. But while the State Ministry of Works and Ministry of Environment are also combating erosion on other fronts, Ivenso informs that Newmap is charged with the ‘biggest and most dangerous erosion sites.’
The task is not merely to achieve erosion control; rather the interventions are designed towards lasting solutions. Consequently, the Newmap’s projects are long drawn and divided into phases. Engr Ivenso offers insight into the steps. ‘A number of studies will be conducted using latest technology to enable us visualise what the gully was like five years ago and what it will probably be in another five years. We also look at the socioeconomic impact. Then, we harvest the water from the source and take it to the nearest natural body of water. In areas where concrete will not work because of soil texture we let the water flow but pile up sand. Over time, the environment heals and begin to have vegetation.’
Except for Onitsha, the 14 erosion projects of Newmap are located in Anambra Central and South Senatorial Districts. However, there is a yearly review of the sites through which new sites to be worked on are chosen based on their impact levels.
The dislocation that erosion inflicts is viewed both from the environmental and social indexes. It is considered that erosion leaves individuals, families and communities economically and socially distressed. Accordingly, the organisation regards rehabilitation of erosion victims an integral part of it’s intervention.
‘This administration has disbursed over N200m to communities across Anambra State to help the livelihood of those that have been impacted by erosion. We are talking of about 16 communities, about 1,700 people of whom sixty percent are women,’ the Newmap Coordinator disclosed.
The empowerment has come in different forms and shapes depending on the interests and peculiarities of affected neighbourhoods. ‘In Amachalla, there is a group of people involved with poultry farming. At Abagana, we’re supporting a community to establish an oil palm venture. In Omaba, Onitsha, we have a fish farm; snail farm; watermelon and cucumber farms.’
With studies attributing the cause of erosion to broken and or blocked water channels, Newmap is trying to step up public enlightenment on preventive measures. It finds a helpful ally on the deterrence front in the Anambra State Physical Planning Board that has for the past three years been pulling down illegal and drainage – obstructing structures across the State.
‘We are urging people to harvest storm water within their immediate premises. Let people put tanks to fetch rain water from the roofs. Even though the tank won’t take the whole water, it slows the velocity from a height. So, from the tank, it now flows without the corrosive force that causes erosion.’
With the combined impact of Newmap’s interventions and the protection projects of the Ministry of Works, the Obiano administration has taken the gully erosion fight to a scale not seen before in the State. But with many more sites still to be attended to, the Anambra State Government continues to engage with the Federal Ministry of Environment and the Ecological Fund Office for assistance.
The scale and cost of environmental degradation from erosion in the southeast States demand that the federal government accord it the same, if not greater priority given to desertification in the northern States and oil pollution in the Niger Delta.