With the N19 billion Nigerian Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP) scheduled to kick off this month, growing concerns surrounding the proper execution of the program as well as the devastating yet sustained impact of erosion on host communities have arisen.
The project which will be funded by the federal government in partnership with arms of the World Bank namely the International Development Association (IDA) , the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) was set up in response to calls to address the wide spread gully erosion ravaging communities across the country.
Although 21 core regions have been earmarked by the investing organizations, seven states have been programmed to benefit from the first phase of the project which will span an eighteen year timeline.
These states include Abia, Anambra, Cross River, Ebonyi, Edo, Enugu and Imo with the exclusion of northern states like Gombe and Kogi where recent cases of top soil disintegration has led to high incidences of flooding.
Addressing newsmen at the media parley organized by NEWMAP, Chikelo Nwune, the national project coordinator revealed that the 8-year loan granted by the international ecological community consisted of “$508.9 million cumulative credit which will be made available only to state governments willing to participate in financing the projects.”
The intervention is a meteoric rise from the N2.8 billion budgeted as ecological funds by the government – with 2 percent allotted for general ecological problems in any part of the country and 3 percent specifically for the Niger Delta region to be derived from mineral revenue as well as the federation account.
The laws guiding the eco-fund which was established in 1981 through the Federation Account Act with the prime objective of pooling finances for the execution of environmental projects was modified as Decree 36 in 1984, 106 in 1992 and 2002 as a sub-unit of the Federation Account Modification Order.
Although the modification saw an upward re-evaluation of the allocation from the Federation Account from one-per cent in 1987 to three percent at the turn of the new millennium, the allotted capital stipulated for environmental schemes has been deemed insufficient.
Out of the total money to be disbursed at the national level, 48.5 per cent is being managed by the federal arm while 24 and 20 percent are distributed between the states and local governments respectively.
Since the institution of the eco-fund, rather than acting as a viable tool for solving the environmental challenges, the projects has been steeped in continual controversies with gross financial indiscipline stymieing the completion of approved programs.
Only recently cases of fiscal impropriety were raised by officials of the Federal Ministry of Environment as they stated that only about half of the erosion projects awarded last year were completed due to lack of funding and misappropriation.
Other cases include allegations leveled against Joshua Dariye, the erstwhile Governor of Plateau State who was accused of siphoning N1.6 billion from the ecological fund and expending it on the Peoples Democratic Party 2003 Presidential campaign.
Also in 2010, an inquiry launched by the House of Representatives and headed by Hon. Uche Ekwunife, the chairman of the committee on environment, exposed cases of fraud worth $2.06 billion as contractors awarded projects abandoned them mid-way without giving account for the money handed they received.
While the nation battles the frequent breach in conduct and trust by officials assigned to preserve the environment, the impact of land degradation is taking immense toll on inhabitants of affected communities.
As revealed by a United Nations Commission Sustainable Development report, “Human lives and properties, especially buildings are endangered as they collapse into gullies as there are currently over 2,000 active gully erosion sites spread across the country.”
In Anambra State alone, the ministry of environment states more than one-third of the entire landscape has been lost to gully erosion with Ekwulobia being the worst hit and 1000 other erosion sites undergoing further damage from climate and human activities.
The devastating effect on agricultural and economic activities which has led to an accumulated loss of over N11.8 billion in less than a decade is largely attributed to the illegal dredging of sand and the unavailability of proper drainage systems across the state.
Some of the other places seriously affected are Enugu state where 15 out of 17 communities have been ruined, Imo state with the constant destruction of roads and Bayelsa.
As stakeholders call for rapid solutions to the environmental difficulties experienced, international environment and climate regulating authorities advocate improved water catchment techniques, conservative agricultural and construction practices as well as the implementation of soil protection programmes.