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COVID-19 in Nigeria: the environmental positives of the pandemic

The closure of Nigeria’s major towns and cities has led to a fall in carbon emissions, air pollution and industrial waste, among other environmental toxins, but can these benefits be maintained when life returns to normal? Inioluwa Oluwagbemi, agricultural development expert and environment writer, speaks on the importance of building environmentally friendly attitudes through better communication, and safeguarding the planet for the future.

The Green Education Initiative has educated over 2,500 students in south-western Nigeria about how to positively interact with the environment © Green Education Initiative

As project manager at the NGO, Green Education Initiative, can you tell us a bit about its aims and activities?

The Green Education Initiative aims to achieve environmental sustainability, protection and conservation through education to help build environmentally friendly attitudes and habits. Changing behaviours and attitudes is the first step towards better management and protection of the environment, and this can be best achieved through education programmes. At the Initiative, we believe that everyone, regardless of their age or social status, should be taught the basic knowledge of how to positively interact with the environment to reduce harm.

As part of our activities, we advocate for the inclusion of environmental education as a subject in the curriculum taught across primary and secondary schools in Nigeria. Since inception of the Initiative in July 2019, we have educated over 2,500 students in south-western Nigeria about the environment and the importance of recycling. Other activities include planting trees, encouraging garden cultivation, introduction of colour-coded bins across schools to ensure waste sorting and sensitisation, training women in how to make jute bags, which are 100% biodegradable and made out of plant material, and increasing general environmental awareness through radio and social media messages.

Many countries have imposed strict restrictions as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. What are the key positive impacts of this for Nigeria’s environmental health?

The measures taken as a result of the pandemic have significantly reduced activities that produce greenhouse gas emissions. A good example of this is transportation, which accounts for 23% of global carbon emissions. As a result of the measures to keep people at home and cut unnecessary travel, emissions have fallen in Nigeria. In the short-term, this is already improving air quality and reducing atmospheric pollution.

The lockdown of Nigeria’s major cities has also reduced business activity, resulting in less industrial waste. This has knock-on positive impacts for the cleanliness of water bodies and other natural resources in proximity to the town and cities. Restrictions on visitors coming into the country and public gatherings of Nigeria’s citizens, as well as the enforcement of social distancing, have also led to a reduction in waste generated in public places and tourist hotspots such as beaches.

Are there also any positive impacts of the restrictions for the agricultural sector?

Unfortunately, I can see mostly negative impacts for the agricultural sector. COVID-19 measures have disrupted production and supply chains, and the border closures and market and trade imbalances are restricting peoples’ access to nutritious food. The limited movement within and across countries has also hindered access to food-related logistical services, such as agricultural labour and farming inputs, which pose critical challenges for food production. The economic impacts of the pandemic in terms of business closures and job losses also mean there is reduced purchasing power among the general public, reducing demand for some food items. This subsequently also has knock-on effects for many farmers.

The only positive for agriculture could be the encouragement of increased local production in order for the country to feed itself, thus reducing import costs for the country.

As lockdown guidelines ease in some countries, what would you like governments and general populations to learn from in terms of our impact on the world, and reducing the impacts of climate change in the long-term?

The lockdown has made it clear to everyone that many pollution-generating activities that we engage in are not really necessary, and we can live without them. However, post-lockdown, there will be a rush to increase agricultural and industrial production, as well as travel and tourism. Governments should implement measures to curtail damaging production-related activities, such as deforestation, as well as limit tourism, and engage in environmental protection initiatives. Environmental change is one of the biggest challenges of the 21st century and we all must take steps to safeguard the planet for the future.

Sophie Reeve

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