Spotlight Activity: #StopTheSoot Takes Over Twitter
The Nigerian city of Port Harcourt used to be known as “The Garden City” because of its soaring palm trees and green open spaces. But since late last year, black soot has been falling from the sky, scaring and angering residents of the oil hub who claim nothing is being done to protect their health.
The soot appeared in November last year, clouds became a hazy grey and more people were seen wearing protective face masks. “It (the soot) is mostly pronounced in the morning hours, especially when you run your hands across your car,” There’s no escape from the fine black dust. Toxic smog is a phenomenon that has more often been associated with populous developing economies such as India and China.
The federal environment ministry in the national capital Abuja declared the air pollution in Port Harcourt an “emergency situation” and warned residents to shut doors and windows. The hashtag #StopTheSoot has appeared on Twitter, people are sharing photographs of their hands and feet covered in the dust, and protest marches are being organized. Burning tires for scrap copper and illegal oil refineries have both been blamed for the residue. Oil revenue is central to Nigeria’s economy, accounting for some 70% of government earnings and 90% of foreign exchange. But decades of exploration and spills have polluted the farmlands and fish stocks in the maze of creeks around Port Harcourt and across the Niger Delta region. Theft of crude oil from pipelines sees raw fuel regularly diverted to illegal refineries set up in the bush for conversion into petrol and diesel. But the environment ministry suggested another cause after ordering the shutdown of an asphalt-processing plant, saying it was “belching out thick smoke from its operations”.
In 2015, the World Bank said 94% of Nigerians were exposed to air pollution levels that exceed World Health Organization guidelines. Air quality is worsened by the use of generators to make up for the gaps in supply from the national electricity grid, as well as petrol containing high levels of Sulphur. Toxic smoke also comes from the burning of rubbish—a legacy of the absence of municipal waste services. The city of Onitsha, nearly 200 kilometres (125 miles) north of Port Harcourt, was in May of last year named as having the world’s worst levels of PM10 particles. PM10 are microscopic particles in the air measuring between 2.5 and 10 thousand of a millimeter or micrometers. They can come from smoke, dust, soot, vehicle exhausts and industries.
Doctors in Port Harcourt say they are seeing the health effects of the soot already, with an increase in consultations for breathing difficulties, including asthma. Children and the elderly are most at risk. The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) estimates some 600,000 people die in Africa every year as a result of air pollution. Environmentalists are also sounding the alarm, as the soot has been found to contain Sulphur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide, which cause acid rain when combined with moisture. A non-profit organization, Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, says it is unlikely any new regulations will be implemented. “Many environmental policies are not enforced. There is a lack of political will. “It’s not too important as far as they (the government) are concerned. They don’t understand the implications of the attack on the environment, so they don’t take it seriously.”
Status: Falling Behind
The Activity as reported, takes the country backwards and needs to be reversed if the country is to move forward in honoring the Paris Agreement.
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