The obviously shaken Udom Emmanuel administration has directed residents of flood-prone locations in the state to vacate to safer areas immediately.
Effiong Ibanga, of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the state Polytechnic, Ikot Osurua, says Akwa Ibom is one of the littoral states within the Niger Delta with a litany of environmental problems across its 31 local government areas.
Among these, according to him, include gully and coastal erosions, flooding, oil spillage, deforestation and pollution. However, gully erosion which is aided by geology, relief, high rainfall and human activities has proven to be a terminal and cancerous ecological disease that removes within minutes and hours, land formed millions of years’ back which cannot be replaced later.
‘’Direct field observations and measurements of widths and depths of some gully erosion sites formed part of the data generated for this study. The study revealed that the people of the state have suffered so much socio-economic loses and woes: have affected settlements, trade, commerce, industry and infrastructures.
‘’This makes it highly difficult to entrench sustainable development because what is built is readily destroyed. Since the man-made problem can successfully be dealt with by the perpetrator-man, we have proffer measures of arresting this eco-disaster’’, the polytechnic teacher said.
Some of their panaceas include, covering exposed top-soils and residential compounds with trees, shrubs and grasses, not only to minimise surface erosion but to encourage optimal seepage; mass education; enforcement of the law on erosion-prone areas; and communities and governments to take pro-active actions to stop erosion wherever it occurs, among others.
However, Environment and Petroleum Resources Commissioner, Dr. Ekong Sampson, gave the directive during an assessment of erosion sites along Bassey Attah and environs, Asutan and Effiong Udo Akpan streets in Uyo, the state capital.
Sampson lamented that Akwa Ibom is threatened by flood and erosion and reiterated his appeal to the Federal Government and International institutions to assist the state in fighting the menace.
He notes that the erosion intervention work at Etim Umana and Anua is ongoing while the flood control work at the popular Ibrahim Babangida Avenue, Uyo will commence soon and lauded the state government’s partnership with the World Bank for these interventions.
He has assured that the state government will continue to address erosion and flood control challenges in the state and appealed to residents to embrace grassing, tree planting and other environmental sanitation habits in order to maintain a healthy and safe environment.
He also reiterated earlier directives to residents of Ikot Ekwere Itam in Itu local government which is seriously under gully erosion threats to quit the affected areas.
In his interactions at Bassey Attah and its environs, he advised “the dead do not collect nor pay rent. They do not enjoy accommodation” and emphasized that the residents should place a high premium on their safety while the government is working on mitigants
The commissioner informed the communities that COVID-19 is real and advised that they should comply with the established protocol and guidelines which includes washing of hands with soap under running water for at least 20 seconds, use of face mask, use of alcohol-based hand sanitizers and observing social distancing.
A community leader, Dr. Idongesit Henry, has expressed appreciation for the commissioner’s on the spot assessment on these flood and erosion sites. He assured state government of the community’s compliance with the directives and pledged collaborations with the government’s efforts to handle the problem.
The commissioner was accompanied by the Permanent Secretary of the ministry, Nsudoh Nsudoh, the Director of Climate Change and Awareness, Mrs. Ini Umoh, the Director of Flood and Erosion Control, Godswill Okpongette and others.
In the meantime, the polytechnic teacher has recommended some remedial measures to ensure that no problems, particularly man-made ones, are unsolvable.
According to him, ‘’all that is required are the will, intelligence and financial muscle to tackle such problems. The problems posed by gully erosion are no exceptions. They can be successfully tackled and solved by us Nigerians since we are the perpetrators.
‘’The following are suggestions and recommendations that can be handled singly or in combination depending on availability of funds and materials/manpower. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
‘’Before gullies are allowed to start, develop and grow, concerned citizens have the opportunities to prevent sheet erosion from growing into rills and rill erosion into gullies through sandbagging, tree planting and total ban on sand excavation especially down slopes.
‘’This is a community based environmental planning approach. Such community approach builds social capital such as knowledge, cooperative spirit, trust, optimism and working relations. There is great need for agroforestry and green belt development in erosion-prone areas.
‘’Reforestation programmes should be embarked upon to reclaim the lands after mechanical/civil works must have been carried out earlier to check the gullies. A soil and Gully Erosion Commission (SOGEC) that shall take care of erosion matters in Akwa Ibom and Nigeria as a whole should be established by a bill of the National Assembly and such bills signed by the President.
‘’A special annual budget should be made to the commission for the next five years to handle erosion problems. Members of the National Assembly should urgently carry out guided tours to gully erosion affected areas of the state and elsewhere in order to appreciate the enormity of this ecological problem so as to allocate enough funds and assistance to the commission.
‘’The federal, states and local government should declare erosion-prone areas disaster areas and enforce laws on people to stop further developments and farming in such areas, and the landowners compensated and relocated elsewhere.
‘’The Federal Government should invite the World Bank, IMF, UNDP, UNEP, UNESCO, FAO, and other world bodies not only for funding the capital-intensive erosion projects but also for technical expertise which such projects require.
‘’Massive education should be carried out through schools, radios, television, newspapers and other informal settings to educate Nigerians on the need to care for their environment. In this 21st century, it will not be enough for a few specialists to know what is going on while the rest of us wander about in ignorance.’’