I work mostly in the Niger Delta region of Nigeria. Three major problems of interest to me in this region are poverty, water pollution and water security. The Niger Delta, which is one of the most important wetlands in Nigeria, is the largest wetland in Africa and the third largest wetland area in the world. Wetlands represent 2.6% of Nigeria’s land area of about 923,768km2.
Sadly, the Niger Delta wetland has been subjected to over 40 years of devastation as a result of intense oil and gas activities, and urbanization. Oil production in the Delta extends over a million hectares of vegetated land, mostly wetlands. Thus far, oil exploration in the Delta has led to the destruction of over 4000km2 of the green forest, including freshwater swamps, mangroves and lowland forests. Incessant oil spill and indiscriminate gas flaring constitute a significant threat to the coastal wetlands of the Delta.
In Nigeria, there is no region with such a feverish population growth, industrial expansion and urbanization rate than the Delta, which compares only with Lagos. The effect of these land use changes includes deforestation and loss of wetlands. Land use change here is a big problem which will not go away as it disrupts the hydrological cycle of drainage basins and alters both the balance between rainfall and evaporation and the runoff response of any area. The changes in surface composition and the introduction of man- made drainage systems especially in urban areas causes a series of wide-ranging effects that can increase flood volumes and peak flow rates, reduce low flows and even intensify local storm activity; often these overwhelm and pollute drinking water systems.
The shrinkage and loss of wetlands robs the Delta of the ecological services provided by wetlands. The hydrology of wetlands is central to their functioning and in turn plays a key role in determining the benefits that they provide such as the sustenance of both the surface and groundwater resources. Wetlands also function as natural sponges that trap and slowly release surface water, rain, groundwater and floodwaters. Wetland vegetation also helps to slow the speed of floodwaters and distribute them more gradually over the floodplain. Thus, the combined water storage and braking action of wetlands helps to lower flood heights and reduce erosion.
Flooding incidents and Pollution of water sources by on-site sanitation and industrial activities in the delta owes their remote origin to these issues and would be reasonably ameliorated when wetlands and forests are allowed to be, with minimal perturbation. In doing my work, I have always canvassed the need to conserve some part of this rich delta, not only its rich biodiversity but the entire ecosystem in order to support livelihood, minimize flooding and support rivers, streams and groundwater systems and sustain clean drinking water supplies. Enforceable policies or laws are desired in order to stop further degradation or developments on floodplains. The involvement of the communities in doing and achieving targets set in this regard is very crucial and urgent.