Saving the Environment, Tracking the Solutions

The need to preserve the environment in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. Failure to do that invites conflicts, depletion of ecosystems, migrations etc. The country is already experiencing various forms of environmental degradations1.

The northern part of the country is facing extreme conditions of deforestation, drought, desertification and erosion2. The vast arable lands are lost due to overgrazing, unsustainable farming methods, deforestation and Sahara Desert enncroahment3. Other parts of the country witness soil and water pollution from oil spillage and industrial processes, deforestation, extreme weather conditions, flooding and loss of biodiversity2. The causes are largely anthropogenic which are now being exacerbated by climate change.

Keeping up with all the environmental degradations and marking them for protection would be an arduous task. However, achieving the feat, especially digitally, would mean all environmental issues are brought to the fore and attention of all. Hence, invigorating people and organizations to take actions.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) has in recent time developed a national tracking programme of public health issues4.  It is called the National Environmental Public Health Tracking Programme (NEPHTP). Up to 26 states in the United States developed local tracking platforms that are embedded in the CDC NEPHTP.  The state of Lousianna’s Tracking Programme mapped the health effects and reach of the 2010 Deepwater Horizon BP oil spillage as well as to inform other relevant authorities how to help5.

In the absence of any environmental tracking platform in Nigeria, I propose a Nigeria Environmental Tracking Platform (NET-P). A community-led initiative to identify, map and records the environmental problems their land is experiencing and also tracks and identifies the players trying to solve them would be an effective way of preserving the environment in Nigeria. It also mentions and educates users the consequences of not protecting the environment.

It is a regional innovation project that motivates people to solve the environmental challenges their locality is facing. Thereafter, any solution implemented by the people is indexed and properly elaborated in a manner to allow for replication and implementation elsewhere. It’s like an encyclopedia of regional environmental problems, the solutions needed and taken by others.

This initiative builds on the state of Louisiana Tracking Programme. The latter lacks functions of suggested solutions and does not catalogue solutions taken for easier reference. It also doesn’t rank the problems requiring urgent interventions. NET-P would be quite diverse, taking into consideration the environmental priorities of different regions. Different regions require different environment solutions; afforestation, land reclamation, water conservation efforts etc. The greater the need for the solution in the community, the more recognition it gets.

It would rank solutions based on social, economic and environmental benefits of in that location. Availability would be in different languages and easily accessible, with limited or no internet connection. An economic tree such as the baobab planted in dry Sahel region of north western Nigeria to combat desertification and improve livelihood cannot be ranked on the same level if it is planted in the oil polluted south-south Nigeria requiring remediation and land reclamation efforts.

It can also be used as an environmental reporting platform. One can report unsafe dumping in an area or burning of items that cause air pollution. Thus, organizations tackling such problems would become aware of it and choose the best action to take.

According to a study of over 3,425 environmental projects implemented in the UK under the ‘Green Spaces and Sustainable Communities’, grassroots community-led initiatives have been more successful than projects with top-down approaches led by local authorities. Grassroots projects reveal how the community is committed to solving their problems. The solutions were needs-based; known and identified by the community themselves. They were also more successful because they enjoyed participation of experts from different fields6.

Such a community initiative can spur different people into being responsible for the well-being of the environment they live in. It would promote efforts taken by other people, encourage and allow for replication of solution elsewhere. It would strengthen unity and cohesion in and between communities, enhance teamwork, bring synergy, foster peace between citizens and above all, help Nigerians, environmental organizations and the government in preserving Nigeria’s environment.

 

References:

  1. United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs. Institutional aspects of sustainable development in Nigeria. http://www.un.org/esa/agenda21/natlinfo/countr/nigeria/inst.htm accessed on 20th May 17
  1. United Nations Department for Economic and Social Affairs. National Environmental Problems, National Implementation of Agenda 21, Nigeria Country Profile, November 1997 <http://www.un.org/esa/earthsummit/nigeriac.htm&gt; accessed on 20th May 17
  2. Sunday Gabriel. Tackling the Effect of Desertification. Daily Trust. June 21, 2009 <https://www.dailytrust.com.ng/sunday/index.php/feature/3346-tackling-the-effect-of-desertification&gt; accessed on 20th May 17
  3. Centre for Disease Control, National Environmental Public Health Tracking Programme <https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/tracking/&gt; accessed on 20th May 17
  4. Centre for Disease Control, Louisiana Tracking Platform, Sharing Our Stories: NCEH’s Impact on Public Health <https://www.cdc.gov/nceh/stories/trackingla.html&gt; accessed on 20th May 17
  5. Community Development Foundation, How do community groups make life better. Paper 5, improving the physical environment, October 2014, Page 2. <http://www.cdf.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/physical-environment.pdf&gt; accessed on 20th May 17

 

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Minimalism or Packratism; It is Up to You

“The more the merrier”. Author, English Man

The popular saying, ‘the more the merrier’ is an utterly wrong statement to use as an objective in many facets of life. I may be wrong.

My religion tells me one should be in this world like a traveler. That one is on a journey to another destination where what you possess here does not mean much there. One is encouraged to aim for less worldly things and garner more spiritual attainment. A belief that only augurs well for those who deeply believe or have a core belief.

But what does it mean to be a traveler? A number of things. One, you are transiting from one place to another for an objective. You have left home in search of something. And when you assume the status of a traveler, something is bound to adhere to; packing. What do you bring on your journey and what do you not?

I was a terrible packer years then. In fact, right from High School days, I remember how I always try to bring everything and fill my bags to capacity. Fast-forward to my adult life, I still fail, not miserably though. At one time when I traveled to Tokyo, I had brought a number of clothing, for every weather (despite it was summer then). To be fair to myself, I was going to be away from my place of domicile for about 3 months. Therefore, I thought I should just bring enough clothes.

It was a terrible idea. I had simply brought more than enough. Now let me ask you, how many clothes do you bring for a journey lasting for about 3 months? Clothing for one month, so you can wash and reuse or for 3 weeks or two weeks or one week? The math isn’t so easy to come by after all.

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When you are going away for a year! 😀

My observant roommate in Japan, Alex noticed the need to improve my packing (over filled bag) and tells me how he packs. ‘Bring together all the things you need for a journey, then just halve it by two.’ He said in a genuinely British accent that resonates in me anytime I am packing to travel. “Halve it by two’. If I am going away for two weeks and thought to bring a pair of cloth for every day, that will be at least 14 pieces of shirts/t-shirts, trousers,  underwear (singlet and boxers), stockings. At least.

Wrong! Halve it by two Alex says. And you will be okay.

Packratism on a short trip is just a little tip of the ice-berg. What about in everyday life? What do you need every day? How much should you keep and how much shouldn’t? How many cars and clothing and shoes do you need in your garage and closet?

The word for such a less material possessive life is called minimalism; having less of everything. Minimalism is a tool for finding freedom, living more consciously and more deliberately.

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It’s what Buddhists monks and many people. They call it viagyra-the intentional giving away of your possessions. Sayyidna Abu Bakr, r.a., the first leader of the Islamic Caliphate after the demise of Prophet Muhammad (SAW) practiced viagyra too in his life time, by giving away all his wealth. Read about the beautiful story here.

Practicing viagyra leaves you to enjoy moksha-the moment after giving away everything. Having this kind of moment-the moksha moment- can reduce your mental stress. It leaves you with much more time for other stuff instead of battling to create time to enjoy/use/admire/caress/display/…(fill in the blank) your gadgets, farmlands, automobiles, houses, and whatever you may have purchased. Hence the thinking that you have all these and you need to guard and use them frequently creates thinking and decision fatigue.

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Buddhist Monk

Minimalism is a line of thought to always serve in what you do. From making purchases to traveling and collecting collectibles. It’s the opposite of being a packrat. Possessing a lot of stuffs that you have to carter for might become a mental stress.

I remember how last year, I used the elementary but powerful economic principle of opportunity cost and scale of preference to decide on what to spend my money on. Things or experience. See my blog post about it here.

I shrink in my chair and reminisce walking the streets of Amsterdam. From one street to another, turning at river canals and crossing over the old bridge. I found a very good restaurant; a Suriname cuisine. I heard the name of the country once before, but never knew they were colonized by the Dutch. So it was easy to have such a restaurateur from Suriname serving food cooked in his native seasoning in the middle of Amsterdam.

Those are the kinds of thoughts that come into my head often. Then occasionally, I get interrupted by what I could have possessed if I hadn’t spent my money on different cuisines and traveling to different places. That new phone, an expensive leather wrist watch or a designer couture bought from Champs’ Elysees.

The could-haves are just numerous to wonder in. but they didn’t matter then. And they cannot now.

To conclude my post, here is a challenge.

Look at all your possessions. Which ones haven’t you use used in the last 3 (or even) 2 months or so? Shoes, clothing or what? Now is the time to bring them all out and giveaway.

Want to go deeper in minimalism, read the Chicago Tribune post here.

Less is more! Less is more!!

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Sustainable Abuja: Pedestrian Friendly or Car Friendly?

Why does it matter if a city is sustainable or not? Why does it matter if a city is walkable or not? Why it does it matter if a city is inclusive or not? It matters because when every person who lives in a city is considered in building it, it ensures their collective participation and recognition. It empowers them and increases their mental strengths which automatically can increase their contribution in making the city a better place.

I am constantly asking this question in the city I live, Abuja. I have been around far too long to witness its evolution from a small city of a million people to more than 4 million people now. I have lived long enough to see big wide dual carriage ways being built without pedestrian bridges. Long enough to witness its rapid urbanization without a corresponding provision of social and affordable housing for its youth and many of the people who work inside it. Long enough to witness failing urban transportation to carter for everyone.

But what about regulations that affect how sustainable a city is? Such as ensuring a city is walkable. A sustainable city should discourage emissions of greenhouse gases, especially from transportation that is shown to be the 4th highest emitter of GHG by economic sector. Therefore, less car usage should be a watchword. A more walking population can mean healthier and more productive workforce.

Constantly connecting districts with roads doesn’t mean it’s bad, but what’s bad is laying out a road without a corresponding provision for where pedestrians can safely walk or access public transportation.

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Recently, I have been witnessing how safe bus stops are created on different road ways in Abuja. So for the past years when the roads were existing, pedestrians have to legally run across 8 lane roads in crossing over to the other side. Legal because when the roads were built, ped. crossings were not provided, even though they were built around popular road crossings and bus stops for the public. The developers never felt the need to consider the pedestrians. Despite the sudden interventions of building ped bridges, there are many major bus stops without these.

Because the custom of running across roads (jaywalking), even when the pedestrian bridges are built, people ditch them and prefer to run across. Another reason is carelessness. There are instances where people are hit by speeding cars. Jaywalking is a crime in many countries. But Abuja is a place where zebra crossings are only for real Zebras; found only in the zoo. In some places, animals use pedestrian bridges, while humans prefer to run across (have you seen such photos). Only a minute fraction of car drivers respect the pedestrian crossings.

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If you want someone to stop for you or a loved one at zebra crossing, you should start stopping for people if you are behind the wheel

Another reason for ditching pedestrian bridges is because they are built a little faraway from where people normally run or bus stops are located. Although at times, it is the only feasible engineering and planning option.

I wonder when people will become more watchful of their safety and start obeying simple rules to prolong their lives.

But simply putting pedestrian footpaths and bridges doesn’t make a city walkable. What about other regulations to promote walking. Often times, commercial buildings in Abuja who due to their strategic locations can have two accesses to their building. One faces a collector road (busier road) and the other access road (less busier than the collector). Government Development Control Department orders such building owners to shutdown pedestrian gates overlooking busier roads. Road users who come to such places are made to travel round and a longer distance to access the other gate, thus aiding more car emissions while inconveniencing pedestrians.

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An image of the numerous order signs painted on many commercial buildings in Abuja by the Development Control Development

The most walkable cities in Nigeria are not the developed the cities. Basic social amenities are more than 5 minute walk from homes. The thinking here is, development means more space for cars and less for pedestrians. Unequitable and uninclusive development.

It will be a welcome and sustainable development if Nigerian cities are designed around the people living in it.

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