A decade ago, emanation of black residues from the illegal activities of makeshift artisanal refineries by oil bunkers was reported in Port Harcourt. However, the elimination of these illicit activities remain unachieved. The federal and state governments have made several promises and efforts to put an end to the activities but the region is still unable to receive freedom from the dangers of illegal bunkering activities in it’s environment. In 2022, Nigeria was projected to lose between N30 trillion to N60 trillion every year to illicit refining and oil theft.
The Nigerian economy has suffered more economic frailties through loss of revenue to oil theft while the people of Port Harcourt become vulnerable to killer diseases plunged into the air and water in the state by the resultant pollution. Dr. Bieye Renner Briggs, a Public Health Physician and an Environmental Advocate in Port Harcourt, asserted that many residents in the affected Port Harcourt communities are aware of the dangers of soot but oblivious of how worse it could become. As a result, Port Harcourt residents are regularly diagnosed of soot-related diseases like cancerous growths, eye and skin irritations, birth defects and miscarriages.
Residents are exposed to deadly respiratory tract infections.
Indiscriminate operations of oil bunkers, burning of waste and other activities carried out by security operatives has often made Port Harcourt record an air quality index (AQI) above 155. According to global health organizations, it is an indication of health emergency because any AQI above 150 is regarded unhealthy. The homes of residents are usually covered in a thick fog of black powdery particles and as a result, they are easily exposed to deadly respiratory tract infections and cardiovascular issues like pneumonia, bronchitis and asthma. In worse cases, they fall victims of skin cancer, premature deaths and preterm births.
It has been discovered that awareness in the grassroots concerning the dangers of contaminated air and water to the health is very low. Also, research has it that the inability to eliminate the soot pandemic in Port Harcourt is not as a result of a lack of effort. Governor Nyesom Wike, after assuming governorship seat, ridded Rivers State of pipeline vandalism and illicit refining activities. His administration also enacted the Rivers State Environment Protection and Management Law in 2019 to combat the issue and make culprits face the wrath of the law.
Rivers State gov’t should audit damage done to the health of residents.
Recently, the Rivers State governor read the riot act to doers of the hazardous business after which he led a raid of indiscriminate refining sites in forests of the Ogbodo community in Ikwerre Local Government Area and Ibaa community in Emohua Local Government Area. Despite the clampdown on illegal refinery operators in local communities and reduction in their activities, Port Harcourt is yet to be soot-free. However, the governor, in a bid to ensure positive results of his efforts, accused security agencies of sabotaging his efforts by protecting illicit refineries in his governed state.
According to Dr. Eugene, Founder of the Extra Step Initiative, after six decades of Rivers State being the base of the hydrocarbon industry and the deadly activities of the non-state actors, the Rivers State Government with support from external forces should be at the forefront of the charge to audit the damages to flora and fauna and the respiratory health of Port Harcourt residents and host communities from the operations of legal and illegal refining of crude oil. This will be done to reduce the rate of cancer and respiratory failure among children, pregnant women and indigent residents.
Soot City will help residents pay attention to their health.
Additionally, a health campaign to assist soot-exposed Port Harcourt residents determine their life expectancy, named Soot City, is ready to begin. The campaign will serve as a reality check for locals who do not pay enough attention to the soot impact on their health. The Founder and CEO of X3M Ideas, Steve Babaeko, said that residents need to be aware of the actual impact of soot damages and its ability to kill slowly which is the motif behind Soot City. The campaign gives residents access to appeal to Senators and lawmakers in the South-south region to take immediate actions for mitigation and eradication of soot.
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