“If you plan cities for cars and traffic, you get cars and traffic. If you plan for people and places, you get people and places.” -Fred Kent
Some weeks ago, the Ministers of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and Environment of Nigeria expressed their desire in making Abuja a green city and a city of the future. The Minister of Environment also reiterated to me on Twitter of a plan to make Abuja a green city but that needs to be reviewed, in conjunction with the ministry of the FCT.
This comes timely as global calls for sustainable cities continue to grow amidst negative impacts of urbanization. Many cities in developed countries have set timely visions of achieving the status of a ‘green’ city. In light of this, I intend to offer a superficial assessment of how green Abuja is based on my green engineering background, academic research, green and urban enthusiasm, attendance at green summits, tours and conferences and experience living in Abuja and traveling to many green conscious cities like Berlin.
To be clear, there is no one single definition of a green city. However, certain indicators are looked at and measured on a scale in order to have an idea of how environment friendly a city is. What has so far been achieved in many different cities in pursuance of becoming green include but are not limited to, integrated waste management (recycling, composting, etc.), renewable power source, efficient public transportation, dedicated bicycle and bus lanes, neighbourhood connectivity, good air quality, more green areas, etc.
A city like Copenhagen in Denmark, already referred to as the European Green capital due to the environmental actions it has taken, aims to be carbon neutral by 2025. Being carbon neutral means removing as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they put into it. Stockholm (Sweden) intends to be fossil-fuel free by the year 2050, with the vision being set and pursued since in the 70s. Vancouver in Canada mentioned in 2012 its desire to be the greenest city in the world by 2020.
For a city like Abuja, a superficial assessment of the environmental performance reveals substantial work needs to done to curb air pollution, noise pollution, visual pollution, poor neighbourhood connectivity, urban heat island phenomenon, inefficient public transportation, poor waste management strategies and the list goes on.
Air pollution in the city
I remember vividly, a few weeks ago, while driving through the central business district, I had to stop right in the middle of the road to allow a vehicle driving ahead of me, whose exhaust malfunctions. The fumes were so heavy and big that I could not even see what lies ahead of me. There are many instances of this from heavy trucks and other vehicles. The health risks of air pollution are numerous. People nearby are forced to inhale these fumes at their own health and medical expense. Research has shown that inhaling car fumes could increase the risk of getting cancer, difficulty in breathing thereby increasing respiratory ailments like asthma and bronchitis, and even reduced work productivity. Many workers who commute daily, passing places like Berger Roundabout, Wuse Markets and bus stops experience this worst. At what expense is the general public allowed to inhale these harmful particulate substances? Cars in Berlin are assessed based on their exhaust emissions and given a certification of safety upon meeting certain agreed level of emission. Cars who pass this test display stickers expressing such accreditation.
Noise pollution in Abuja in hard to bear. People who experience occasional noise (unpleasant sounds) develop hearing problems earlier in their life stage. It impedes normal hearing, causes stress, heightens risks of headaches, blood pressure, damage to eardrums, with children more susceptible. Especially for people who live in block of flats, they cannot but absorb the noise coming from the generators and homes turned party or worship centres. Lagos State has made efforts in curtailing this pollution by instituting laws and fining offenders. Perhaps a simple regulation can be passed to reduce noise coming from generators and other noise generating activities.
In the face of current crisis of Lassa fever, it has been established that proper waste management and ensuring good sanitation around our environs will ensure its eradication. Green cities practice integrated waste management where waste is not commingled; paper, plastics, glasses, perishables like food are all put differently etc. Recycling facilities will benefit much from the separated disposal of waste. At the moment, a gentleman runs a business of recycling plastics in Dakibiyu for 25 years. Perhaps, if this is to be encouraged across the board, more recyclers and waste haulers need to be in place to absorb the Abuja urban waste sprawl. This directly creates greener jobs for the people.
Other vital sectors like the terrible transportation infrastructure needs to be carried along as well. The great road network of Abuja in the presence of a broken public transportation system makes it seems like it is a city built to accommodate more cars than people.
Starting to put the above issues in order will improve the living conditions of Abuja residents and position it to become a green city, especially when a clear goal of say 50% reduction in GHG emissions is set.
The capital of Nigeria, one of few purposely built cities in the world is remarkable in its way and its efforts to make it a truly model city should be pursued.
Sadiq Abubakar Gulma is of Green Habitat, a nonprofit promoting the adoption and implementation of sustainable policies and frameworks in agricultural, building and construction sectors.