As at the end of 2018, the number of internally displaced people in Nigeria was over 2 million. While Boko Haram was responsible for an additional 541,000 in 2018, extreme weather conditions displaced 613,000 individuals.
In the south, rising sea levels have pushed back the shoreline, forcing thousands of people to move inland, looking for new places to call home. In the north, hundreds of thousands of people have abandoned their hometowns, due to inconsistent rainfall, food insecurity, and climate-related conflict.
As global climate conditions worsen, the geographical landscape of the country is changing. It is becoming increasingly difficult for the environment to provide sustenance and for individuals and communities to protect themselves and adapt.
While climate change affects everybody, the poor are most vulnerable. 70% of the country depends on agriculture for their basic needs and income. This is one of the areas that climate change impacts the most.
For example, without appropriate rainfall, a subsistence farmer loses most of his yield; cannot fend for his family; children, most likely girls might have to leave school; and the poverty cycle continues. How then, can we cope with this spiralling effects of climate change?
Two approaches. Climate change mitigation and adaptation.
Mitigation is about reducing the causes of climate change (global warming and greenhouse gas emissions) while adaptation is about addressing the impact of climate change. Mitigation is before the fact, adaptation is after.
Most of Nigeria’s greenhouse emissions come from the industrial sector. The culprits? Agriculture and forestry, waste, and energy. However, while being the second-largest greenhouse emitter in Africa, Nigeria only accounts for 0.7% of the world’s greenhouse gases. So, climate change mitigation is an important, but not a pressing priority.
Because climate change is mostly a global issue, we can't mitigate the problem alone. The likes of China and the US need to play ball.
On the other hand, climate change adaptation is an urgent issue we can address. Even if global warming and greenhouse emissions stop today, the world has and will continue changing. The extent to which these changes will affect lives will depend on how well people and systems are able to adapt. This is why it is necessary to start articulating roles that individuals and communities can play towards improving Nigeria’s capacity to reduce the impact.
Climate change adaptation
Our generation’s capacity to adapt depends on economic wealth, technology, information and skills, infrastructure, institutions and equity.
Adaptation is also about resilience. Unfortunately, resilience becomes difficult when a community is marginalized, disenfranchised, or lacks information about their current situation. This is why Nigeria is one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change in the world.
For example, in cases where floods and droughts lead to malnutrition and starvation, access to effective healthcare and technology becomes a lifesaver. Hospitals, sanitation facilities, and laboratories need to be efficient and equipped with knowledgeable and skilled professionals to manage these risks.
However, the vulnerability of Nigeria’s systems and weak institutions forces one to consider other avenues, such as paying attention to ecosystem services. These are direct and indirect contributions of the environment and include services such as food, fresh water, soil formation and retention, oxygen production, and climate regulation. Although these services are affected by climate change, we must realise that they are also part of the solution.
Engaging the ecosystem
As important as the elements of the ecosystem are to our survival, a huge chunk of it is threatened due to an inability to manage services at an individual level.
Water Pollution is a significant challenge. Only 19% of the Nigerian population has access to safe drinking water. Some of the causes are toxic cleaning products, oil spills, poor waste management, fertiliser and pesticide runoff, industrial waste, and mining. Spread of water-borne/water-related diseases like typhoid, cholera, malaria, yellow fever are inevitable in a country plagued with water pollution levels as challenging as Nigeria’s.
To help, proper waste disposal at the individual, household, community, and industrial level is needed to prevent pollution of local bodies of water. Waste producing industries need to engage in sustainable practices that prevent and clean up industrial pollution. Both individuals and businesses can further assist by reducing inorganic foods, and using more natural ingredients for household cleaning and self-care products. This requires education on what toxins are dangerous to the environment and avoiding them in the products we use.
Deforestation and desertification - the loss of forests and drylands becoming baren desserts - are climate change challenges we must also pay attention to. Compared with 2007, Nigeria has lost over half of its forests. Additionally, 60% of Nigerian land has been affected by desertification. The primary cause of the current deadly conflicts between herdsmen and farmers is due to this loss of viable land, pushing northern herdsmen towards the south.
Deforestation and desertification occur from activities such as extensive cultivation, overgrazing, cultivation of marginal land, and urbanization.
Because forests are critical for providing clean water, conserving biodiversity and responding to climate change, planting trees, and eating less meat are some helpful actions to take.
Policy-wise, to successfully sustain our ecosystem services, we need both local engagement and macro policy that tackle environmental issues.
A good example is the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project launched with the help of the World Bank. It focuses on erosion, capacity building and alternative energy in rural areas. In addition to implementing restoration initiatives, they also provide grants for community-led projects. The results show rehabilitation of over 1500 hectares of degraded land with more than 8000 people lifted out of poverty.
As long as organised and specific action is taken, it is possible to reduce vulnerability to climate change. However, it is essential that we are all aware of the issues and committing to take action to protect ecosystem services.