08 Aug 2018 Story Disasters & conflicts

Tackling environmental disasters in Nigeria

How UN Environment is working with communities in the northern city of Kaduna to reduce environmental risks

Kaduna city, in northwestern Nigeria, is a bustling metropolis of about 1.5 million people. Established from quasi-virgin territory by Lord Frederick Lugard in 1912, it was initially a garrison town which then morphed into the regional capital of the then Northern Protectorate.

Today, the urban centre, located along the Kaduna River, is a thriving commercial hub famous for its textile and garment industries, which have been in existence since the colonial era. Among other industries, the city hosts chemical plants, refineries and petrochemical facilities, vehicle assembly lines, fertilizer processing companies, breweries, and defense units.

Workers remove dead mangroves during a clean-up in Rivers State, Nigeria November 1, 2017. Photo by REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

While many of these industries offer crucial income opportunities to locals, they also have far-reaching negative health and socio-economic implications for the community. For instance, frequent air pollution and toxic effluents threaten the neighbouring communities and their environment. These hazards are also compounded by drought, erosion, land degradation, rainstorms, windstorms, fires, pipeline vandalism, floods, and pest invasion.

About 60 kilometres south of the Kaduna International airport lies the Kaduna Refining and Petrochemical Company. The refinery, which became operational in the 1980s, is situated near the Mararaban Rido community, which comprises of about 1,500 households.

Between February and June 2018, UN Environment and Nigeria’s Minna-based Federal University of Technology/Centre for Disaster Risk Management and Development Studies carried out a study on how the communities around the refinery respond to natural and man-made hazards and emergencies. The assessment was conducted within the framework of the Awareness and Preparedness for Emergency at Local Level (APELL) initiative, designed by UN Environment.

The Mararaban Rido community in Kaduna faces challenges with solid waste disposal. Photo by Nigeria’s Minna-based Federal University of Technology

“The disposal of industrial effluent into the surrounding environment has given rise to heavily localized pollution and seriously threatens the environment,” concluded the study. “There is also evidence that local communities are suffering from a variety of health problems that could be a direct or indirect result of the consumption of various forms of water.”

The survey established that while 84.1 per cent of respondents had experienced at least one major hazard, the majority, or 74.7 per cent, had never been informed on preparedness.

Following the study, various government agencies, learning institutions and community leaders from the Mararaban Rido community agreed to form countrywide community emergency awareness committees. The stakeholders involved are the National Emergency Management Agency; the Nigeria Security and Civil Defence Corps; the National Environmental Standards Regulatory and Enforcement Agency; the National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency; and community leaders from youth, women, and religious groups, retired soldiers, and police officers.

The mandate of these committees is to coordinate risk identification and assessment, hazard mapping, prioritization and community resilience. They will initially focus on fires, epidemics, and floods.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), and other state agencies, will partner with communities to identify hazards and minimize related risks. Photo by REUTERS/Akintunde Akinleye

“We, the members of the community, are happy because we are now being educated through the APELL training. We are no longer endangering ourselves through some of our daily activities. We no longer use charcoal to cook indoors with windows closed. We have ceased to drink unsafe water and we are not spraying our farms with harmful chemicals. We are also disposing waste at designated sites. We are therefore grateful to the organizers of the training,” said Mr Samuel Yerima, head of the Rido Kidunu community after a workshop held in June 2018.

The APELL process, initiated in 1988, builds cohesive and resilient communities in the face of technological or natural hazards which cause environmental emergencies. This is done by raising awareness and agreement on roles and responsibilities of all community stakeholders in potential preparedness and response measures.

As the leading global environment authority, UN Environment developed in 2015 the Second Edition of the APELL Handbook. The handbook highlights the importance of an integrated multi-hazard approach at the local level and emphasizes the importance of multi-stakeholder and all-of-society engagement.

Learn more about UN Environment’s work the environmental causes and consequences of disasters and conflicts.