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Erosion a "state of emergency"

Improper dumping of refuse has heightened the impact of erosion say officials
Hilary Uguru/IRIN

Severe erosion over many years in Anambra, southeastern Nigeria, has cut off or destroyed hundreds of homes, businesses, farms and schools, prompting the governor to call for a state of emergency in the area where he says thousands of people now risk being displaced.



Among the worst-hit towns are Ideani, Abatete, Oko, Ekwulobia, Nanka and Onitsha, according to Anambra environment commissioner Michael Egbebike, with as many as one million people who could be forced from their homes.



Buildings have collapsed in several towns including Idi Ani, and farmers in the area have seen their fruit trees washed away during this year's rains, according to the town’s traditional ruler Igwe Okoye. “We’ve lost a lot of orange trees, mango trees and palms.” He said buildings and other resources have also been affected.



In nearby Abatete, deepening gulleys threaten to make the town’s only state-run school unreachable, town councilor Efobe Okeke told IRIN.



“Many homesteads and cash crops are daily in danger of yielding to the fury of this monster,” Okeke said. “It is devastating.”



Abatete store-owner John Uche told IRIN: “My store which was my source of living was washed away this year; I need help to feed my family.”



Why



Until 150 years ago southeastern Nigeria was covered by thick rainforest but soil degradation began with the widespread planting of trees to meet European demands for palm oil in the mid-19th century, according to environmentalists. Palm trees generate soil salinity, according to state environmental protection agency (EPA) director Emma Ude Akpeh.



The combination of this loose soil, hilly landscape and strong rains for several months of the year are ideal erosion conditions, she said. She added that farmers’ habit of burning off brush destroys roots and shrubs that could help curb erosion.



Poor urban planning, population growth and improper waste disposal have converged to exacerbate the problem, environment commissioner Egbebike told IRIN. People dump refuse or build houses on waterways and canals, obstructing the flow of rain-water, causing deep gulleys to form when it rains.



Government accountability



EPA’s Akpeh told IRIN the state environmental protection agency is working to clear rubbish from ditches and collecting rubbish house-to-house. The Anambra environment ministry meanwhile is planting trees near towns to stem erosion and is encouraging families to reinforce their houses with sand bags during the rainy season, Egbebike said.



But he said the commission needed more federal and international support to make a real difference. Anambra’s governor has joined four governors from erosion-prone neighbouring states to appeal for federal funding.



Village leaders in Ideani and Abatete are taking matters into their own hands by encouraging inhabitants to plant erosion-resistance and soil-binding crops such as India bamboo and cashew trees, according to town councilor Okeke. “You can’t fold your hands and watch your house be carried away,” he said. “But individuals cannot handle the situation alone.”



Traditional ruler Okoye said with each passing year the cost of inaction grows. “What would have been controlled with less than one million naira [US$6,000] 10 years ago cannot be controlled now by 10 billion naira [$66 million] now.”



hu/aj/np

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