BUSH BURNING: BEFORE WE GET SO COMFORTABLE

As the dry harmattan season relatively sets in in most parts of Nigeria, especially the northern parts, a practice which has since become an integral part of the traditional farming process called the slash-and-burn practice, which in other words, is called the bush burning, is about to get underway. This practice is absolutely an unsustainable practice, which is adding more pressure to the natural environment especially in the aspects of adding greenhouse gasses to the environment, reducing soil nutrient and the disappearance of biodiversity.
What is bush burning?
The bush burning practice is defined as the process of clearing, gathering and burning of forestland for the purpose of preparing the land for crop or livestock production. This land being prepared for the farming practice is called the swidden. Traditionally, the practice has been carried out since time immemorial and considered as a method of replenishing the lands especially where shifting cultivation is adopted.
Initially, the practice was considered sustainable because the lands were allowed to fallow for so many years which within the period, the ecosystem is restored and secondary forests regenerate. But with increasing population growth, urbanization and industrialized farming systems which consistently exert pressure on the natural environment and the ecosystem, this practice is no longer sustainable. Primarily, the fallow periods have reduced and therefore, slash and burn practices have reduced critical forests into mere grasslands and shrubs. In essence, it has become another form of environmental degradation.

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Bush fire (Credit: http://www.today.ng)

Environmental Impacts of bush burning
The environmental effects of bush burning in Nigeria cannot be overemphasized. The dangers of bush burning can be adduced to that of a double tragedy in that it affects human health and the environment. Healthwise, bush burning is known to be a public nuisance from the thick smokes soaring in the air causing suffocation as well as burning sensation in the eye among other physical hazards. On the environment, it leads to a variety of problems ranging from deposition of smoke on the ozone layer consequently increasing its depletion, habitat fragmentation, pollution of water and destroying the soil quality. Desert encroachment is also a consequence of bush burning.

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Bush burning also causes desertification (Credit: https://www.bellanaija.com)

Human health

Bush burning poses an intense hazard to the health of anyone that comes in contact directly or indirectly. The heat from the burning itself is intense and has effects on the skin. Farmers and hunters burning bushes usually end up with scars and in many cases, where the fires are uncontrolled, it could result in wild fires destroying forests and human settlements thereby with huge financial implications and possible loss of human lives.

Bush fires in Nigeria have serially been discouraged in many quarters of the country and it has even outlawed in states like Nasarawa and Kogi. Bush burning causes breathing difficulties and triggers asthma because of the excessive mucus secretion in the bronchial tubes from the burnt-out oxides of Nitrogen and Sulphur. Gases from the burning of bushes have the potential of causing eye deficiencies and cause visibility discomforts to motorists which can be devastating to some degree.

Destruction of soil and water quality

Setting up bush fires for land preparation and for hunting purposes have tendencies of reducing the quality of soil and its nutrients as well as the quality of nearby water bodies. This is so because bush burning results in the destruction of vegetation cover with leaves the soil susceptible to severe erosion and desertification. Now as erosion continues unabated, the washed off soils results in an increase in the sedimentation of streams which in turn adversely affects stream flow. The sediments are usually mixed with minerals and compounds of nitrogen and phosphorous which aid and abate the growth of organisms such as algae which deplete the quantity and supply of oxygen necessary for the survival of aquatic organisms. The sediments deposited into the streams also migrate into drinking waters which reduce water quality and this could be harmful to health.

Habitat fragmentation

By habitat fragmentation, the concept is best explained as the loss of vegetation cover which serves a dual purpose as food for herbivorous animal species and also as a balance for the gaseous exchange between the various species in tropical regions. When this vegetation is lost, many species which depend on them for food lose a means of livelihood and will have to migrate to other areas where they can find a more fitting habitat.

The effects of bush burning do not only result in health risks and deplete the ozone layer through the release of Nitrogen, sulphur and carbon dioxide as well as methane gases, but also severely deplete the population and concentration of wildlife, plant species and animal habitats, especially the endangered species. Bush burning for hunting practices has destroyed giant rats, antelopes, African hare and grasscutters and much other wildlife. This has significantly resulted in the depreciation of tourism potentials.

Wildfires always come with huge financial implications. The 1982/83 wildfires in Nigeria has been estimated to cost the country over N90 million with some loss of lives. In the United States, wildfires statistics showed that between 1990 to 2000, wildfires cost the country an average of $1 billion annually. This has since which tripled to $3 billion from 2002.

The practice of bush burning or slash-and-burn has become a sociocultural practice in many societies in Nigeria but its effects on the environment and on human health need not be overemphasized. It has become necessary that this ‘norm’ be discouraged in its totality so that we can avoid its many hazards. Farming practices must be made sustainable in all stages and enforcement on laws of bush burning must be made strict and stringent. The responsibility of preserving the environment rests on the shoulders of each one of us. Take action and stand for sustainability.

 

Blog written by Abdulmumin

IMG_0004 copyAbdulmumin Tanko has a master’s degree in Civil Engineering with an insatiable desire for research and writing. A staunch environmental enthusiast and a fervent campaigner for environmental consciousness, he works to break the silence and end the nescience, largely responsible for environmental indiscretion. . He believes that a serene and safer environment begins with YOU. Follow him on Twitter @Tikaysmalls

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Posted in Agriculture, Environment, Waste | 3 Comments

The role of waste and renewable “Eco-businesses” in Nigeria’s economic diversification

The modern world is challenged by growing demands for energy resources to mitigate dynamic issues and solve diverse problems. In the quest to find solutions, different concepts and ideas have and are being developed among which is the “eco-business”.  The notion of “eco-business” is not entirely a new one. As a concept, it is defined as a venture that offers/produces minimal negative impacts on the environment and economy of a society, community or country. This covers areas of business ranging from the production to the service industries of an economy.

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(Source: http://teamgemini.us/the-importance-of-sustainability-as-a-core-business-value/)

The pursuits of environmental consciousness in human economic activities have created a new channel of income generation in the global economic scene. Many nations have since adopted the practice in the interest of natural resource preservation and effective exploitation.

With rapid advancements in scientific methods and techniques, ventures in waste management, renewable energy, monitoring pollution and emission control have become increasingly profitable. This is evident by the surge in the number of environmentally oriented businesses in the developed world.

The state of eco-businesses in Nigeria

Nigeria has not yet achieved significant strides in injecting Eco-business money into the economy primarily due to lack of information on the financial viability and the wealth creation potential of eco-friendly ventures.

The potential for wealth generation through waste management is greatly underestimated. Waste management ventures are currently driven by the public sector which has hindered its development due to the attitude of government officials across all sectors of the civil service. Privatization of waste management ventures has not yet covered all aspects of the waste value chain. Consequently, waste management begins with waste collection and terminates with general dumping.

screenshot-51There is however some noticeable progress in the growth and development of solar renewable energy ventures within the last decade though the concentration of investments and businesses in the solar renewable energy industry has been in supply, installation and maintenance. The sight of solar-powered streetlights, solar roofs atop houses and communication stations in major cities shows the extent of solar energy applications.  Resolved in “changing the status quo”.

Potentials for economic diversification

According to Lagos Waste Management Authority (LAWMA) (here), Lagos State in southern Nigeria produces municipal solid waste at the rate of 10,000 Metric Tonnes Per Day (MTPD).

A university in Malaysia (here) conducted another research which revealed that waste generation in Nigeria’s major states is at a high rate with Kano State producing more than 5,000 Metric Tonnes Per Day (MTPD) in Northern Nigeria.

Across all major cities, waste generation was estimated at values between 440grams to 660grams per person per day in 2013 (here). It is further estimated that the population of Lagos State which was 18 million in 2013 increased at the rate of 8 percent per year.  Overall, the fact that Nigeria is experiencing population growth despite its economic state creates a positive forecast for waste generation.

Nigeria is blessed with abundant solar radiation, wind speeds, waterfalls, and geothermal energy among other renewable energy sources.

Solar energy is by far the most convenient renewable energy source to exploit within the shortest time for the highest economic impact in Nigeria. Studies conducted in Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria have estimated Nigeria’s solar energy potential at nearly 480 Million Megawatt hours per day (MMWh/day) using 0.1% of her total land area. Currently, solar energy production is less than 0.01(MMWh/day). (here)

The sustainable exploitation of all these energy sources will not only generate wealth internally but also provide means for external revenue through electricity exports to neighboring countries.

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(Source: http://www.nigeriaelectricityhub.com/2016/08/31/usaid-power-africa-org-japan-form-alliance-to-provide-renewable-energy-access-in-africa/)

Changing the Status Quo

To improve waste management practices and create sustainable waste processing businesses, there needs to be a change in the perception of waste as a valueless and repulsive commodity to one that projects its immense economic value. That should result in a new approach to waste collection, processing, disposal and effective treatment.

Waste collection processes should include sorting of waste at collection points to minimize cost of processing through the use of differentiated waste bins. Waste processing should address the most harmful non-biodegradable waste types such as plastics, metals and rubber which have severe long term effects on the environment if unattended.

There’s need for effective landfill design for all major waste categories i.e. industrial waste, hazardous and non-hazardous municipal solid wastes. Waste treatment plants require serious funding which can be sourced by amending policies to aid foreign direct investments and partnerships in setting up such plants. This can be achieved through organization of awareness campaigns, training workshops and seminars, funding of local startups and added incentives by the relevant stakeholders in both public and private sectors.

The national demand for electricity is a strong motivator for investments in renewable energy and incentives in tax exemptions and import waivers from the government make renewable energy ventures even more attractive.  While these efforts are recognized, public/private partnerships in the manufacturing of solar panels, wind and tidal wave turbines, industrial and residential voltage converters and energy storage systems such as batteries and fuel cells will boost the productivity of our renewable energy industry.

Nigeria must continue the unending struggle to develop and boost its economy. It would position the country as a continental leader if it would grow in a resource conscious and sustainable way.  What better way is there to grow in today’s world?!

Written by Adam.

img1Adamu Abdullahi is a contributor at Green Habitat Initiative. A master’s degree holder in Environmental Engineering  from Warsaw University of Technology in Poland. He is interested in renewable energy, environmental solutions and innovative technologies for sustainable development.

Follow him on twitter @assyrianliege

Posted in Environment, Waste | 4 Comments

The Need for Efficient Drainage System in Nigerian Cities

As highlighted in my previous blogpost, drainage systems in most of Nigerian cities are bedeviled by multiple problems making them predominantly nonfunctional. This is seriously alarming in the light of the projected increase in the frequency of flood events across Africa. We may not have control over natural disasters, but we can mitigate their effects by adopting appropriate strategies that reduce our vulnerability and fortress our coping mechanisms.

In order to achieve that, a long term plan towards sustainable and efficient urban management needs to be devised. The failure of the current traditional drainage systems may in fact be as a result of its incompatibility with modern development. It is, therefore, imperative for urban planners to come up with creative solutions suitable for Nigerian cities. We can learn from similar techniques developed in other parts of the world that have proven to be successful. I will highlight here two such approaches that have been named as Sustainable Drainage System (SuDS) and Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD).

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Flood has become a common phenomenon in our cities (Photo source  Vanguard NG)

Sustainable drainage system

The system was first introduced in the United Kingdom in order to address the inefficacy of the traditional drainages. It is an alternative drainage system mainly developed to accommodate flow dynamics due to rapid urbanization. Traditional drainage systems are designed to drain runoff quickly through surface ditches or underground pipes. The biggest challenge to this approach is the inability of the system to cope with unforeseen variation in flow dynamics such as that caused by land development and unprecedented intense rainfall. Since the replacement or expansion of the existing drains would be a complicated task, SUDS incorporate brilliant water management measures into the system.

Instead of treating rainwater as a burden to be gotten rid of, SUDS technique prioritizes its capture, utilization, and absorption. Basically, the rainfall is ensured to be mostly dealt with at the location it fell. The techniques include permeable pavements, swales, green roofs, rainwater harvesting, infiltration trenches, and wetlands. Selection of which of these to be included is made based on the feasibility report from the area being designed.In addition to flood mitigations, SUDS come with other additional benefits. Some of the features mentioned facilitate the recharge of both shallow and groundwater thereby reducing the risk of drought. The system also improves vegetation growth and provides water bodies for birds and other animals to thrive. It also plays an important role in controlling surface and groundwater pollution. SUDS is indeed strong adaptive strategy against the current environmental and ecological challenges we are facing.

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Pervious pavements are used in SuDS designs

In addition to flood mitigations, SUDS come with other additional benefits. Some of the features mentioned facilitate the recharge of both shallow and groundwater thereby reducing the risk of drought. The system also improves vegetation growth and provides water bodies for birds and other animals to thrive. It also plays an important role in controlling surface and groundwater pollution. SUDS is indeed strong adaptive strategy against the current environmental and ecological challenges we are facing.

Water sensitive urban design

Water Sensitive Urban Design was developed by Australian urban planners with the purpose of making urban landscapes sensitive to the natural water cycle. Similar to SUDS, it also treats stormwater as a valuable resource that can benefit the community and all sort of biodiversity in the urban environment. The design approach considers flood risk management, sustainable water supply and use, as well as improvement of water quality in reservoirs to be interrelated.

Under this system, buildings are equipped with water-efficient appliances and landscape to lower down potable water demand and consumption. Wastewater treatment is also localized and recycled whenever possible. As in the case of SUDS, permeable pavements are introduced to facilitate infiltration and storage facilities installed for water harvesting. Bio-retention swales, sand filters, and infiltration trenches are also incorporated for removal of sediments and other solids. The whole setup ensures that only small portion of runoff ends up in the drains.

 Contextualizing the engineering

Considering that the drainage systems in many of Nigerian cities are in dire need of rehabilitation, responsible authorities should make sustainable water management a priority. Even where the traditional drainages are in good shape, retrofitting them with an environment friendly system and ensuring that new development follow a sustainable approach would pay back in the long run. That would bring many benefits to the community and make the environment safer and healthier (a.k.a. greener).

Some elements of the sustainable management practice would have a significant and an immediate impact. Take for example the portable water management and rainwater harvesting technique. With many households across some of Nigerian cities not getting constant water supply and others having to deal with costly bills, sustainable water management would be a great relief. Actually, citizens do not have to wait for the government to re-plan the cities before adopting simple and beneficial technologies for water use reduction and personal rainwater storage. Communities can also collaborate in order to install large water retention systems that may prove useful on dry days.

While the existing drainages reign

It is our collective responsibility to ensure that our current drainage networks work to their designed capacity. Indiscriminate waste disposal into waterways cannot continue while we live in fear of flash flood whenever a heavy rain is forecast. Governments and communities need to work together to provide and abide by designated garbage collection areas. Citizen’s attitude of throwing away trash in the open space needs to change. Agencies responsible for the maintenance of the infrastructure should also be organizing routine sedimentation cleaning for all drains.

On a final note, it is important to remember that the future of our habitat depends on our actions today. Policy makers should incorporate environmental sustainability in every new development to ensure that our cities are able to cope with the increasing pressure. Individuals should also learn to adopt sustainable living practices at home and places of work.

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Written by Sada.

sadaSada Haruna  is the IT strategist at Green Habitat and a contributor to the blog. He is a PhD student in the department of Environmental Engineering at the University of Ottawa. His current research focuses on safe disposal of toxic mine wastes and remains an ardent advocate of environmental sustainability. He enjoys reading and coding at his leisure time. Follow him on Twitter @H_Sadah

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Urban Agriculture: an innovative way of growing food in the city

Farming is often thought  of as something for the rural areas and for the rural people. Perhaps due to the reason of availability of vast farmlands, something uncommon to cities. The latter are always struggling to find spaces to develop. However, a careful observation will show that many cities, if not all, have unused parcels of lands . They remain undeveloped for a very long period of time.  In order to utilize these lands before their development time comes, a new innovative use has surfaced; urban agriculture.

Defining the Concept

Urban agriculture is the growing of different types of crops, vegetables, beekeeping and even rearing of livestock. Carried out on either the underlying ground, in boxes filled with soil, in plastic pipes (vertical farms) or in water tanks or pipes (hydroponics) or all these placed on rooftops.

Urban rooftop farming is done when people have access to the flat roof of a building. Many flat rooftops are redundant. Innovation in farming has shown that we can now start growing food stuff on our rooftops in urban areas.

Urban farming is not an entirely new way of farming in cities. You may realize that you or a friend is growing some food in his compound. But urban farming is different from those traditional ways of growing fruits, tomatoes or even keeping a small fish pond in your backyard. With urban agriculture, a big part of it is commercial. Food is grown in commercial quantity to be sold to most a times restaurants, supermarkets as well as households. Therefore, if you are thinking of doing this, you should think of it as a business to provide  healthier food in your city.

Benefits of Urban Farming

Healthier  food because what is mostly grown is organic. Therefore, urban farming offers the opportunity of providing healthier diet to the city. It has created jobs for many people and generated lots of income. Angel, is a peri-urban farmer in Abuja. With her two farms around the city, she started her company called Fresh Directs, which generates lots of income for her. She grows and supplies supermarkets and restaurants with vegetables.

Andrea, is an urban agriculturist in the city of Malmo in Sweden. He is making $300 from the food he grows every month in his urban farm providing different types of vegetables.

 angels-farm-green-habitatOne of Angel’s farm in Abuja. The corrugated metal house is a poultry. (Credits: Self)

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAndrea and some of the food products he sells

(Source: http://malmo.se/Kultur–fritid/Idrott–fritid/Natur–friluftsliv/Stadsodling/Stadsbruk.html)

 

How to Start Your Urban Farm

I think what is going on in your mind is how to start this, especially if you don’t have a flat roof or a free land. Well, urban farming works in a way that you recognize undeveloped plots of land in your city, or unused rooftops, or huge containers that may be used for vertical farming. For the city I live Abuja, there are lots of them like that. You can just take a tour with a friend to make an index of areas where you see them. Or better, use Google maps, assuming it is a recent image of your city (look in the bottom right corner, the date the photo is taken is usually printed). If you choose the latter, you can easily go direct to the site to confirm for yourself.

Most of the sites are owned by individuals or at times government. With individuals, you can find out when the owner intends to develop the land. Assuming it is in the next 5 years, it is a good time to seek for a lease of that period. Although not every land lying fallow is good for an urban farm. Many people seek this lease for many other reasons in Abuja. Some operate a block making factory, others are occupied by auto mechanics and you, farming. Farming in the middle of Maitama, should you find a free plot might be impossible as city urban planning regulations does not allow farming anywhere in the metropolis. If you can find somewhere away from the public eye or in other cities with less strict development regulations, then it can be easier to start.

 

Societal Impacts

It is a cool way of making social, ecological and economic impact in the society. Instead of allowing the lands to continue lying fallow,  they can be put to better use. It is another way of ensuring more food security and nutrition in these cities. Especially for a country like Nigeria, that is food insecure, relies heavily on imported food items, and needs to start looking for innovative solutions like this.

The country is also facing an unprecedented urbanization rate. According to the United Nations World Cities Report 2016, 85 more people move into Lagos every hour of a day. Abuja is already overpopulated with 6 million people, against the plan of 3 million. The city is experiencing urban sprawl, development of informal settlements and with no sufficient food to feed them.

It has therefore become imperative that we start making our cities food secured, and gradually the whole country will follow suit. Our urban planning policies should change to accommodate innovative and sustainable solutions like urban farming. Stakeholders in this should come together and start working out ways of how to get this going.

Green Habitat is working with Swedish experts in urban agriculture and will always be available in connecting interested parties with valuable resources.

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Written by Sadiq.

Behrendt & Rausch FotografieSadiq Abubakar Gulma steers the organizational mission of Green Habitat. He is a member of the Green Talents International Forum for High Potentials in Sustainable Development, a LEED accredited green building professional and has a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering. His research interest and work lie in investigating and improving the thermal conditions of urban built environments. Follow him on Twitter @TheCivineer

 

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What is next for Nigeria after Signing the Paris Agreement?

At one of the side events of the 71st annual United Nations General Assembly in New York, Nigeria’s President and the leader of the Nigerian delegation, Muhammadu Buhari signed the country’s ratification of the 21st annual Conference of Parties (COP21) agreement on climate change, otherwise known as the Paris Agreement, on 22nd September 2016. This indicates Nigeria’s consent to cut down the carbon emission currently adding so much to the global warming. It is indeed laudable and timely, especially at a time Nigeria is talking about economic diversification, infrastructural, social and economic development which we hope will take the nation at par with other developed countries of the world.
Buildup to the meeting in Paris, environmental enthusiasts, professionals, governments and NGO’s alike tasked the negotiators, policy makers and participants to decide for the future and come out with policies and frameworks that will save and improve the integrity of the environment. To much expectation, a favorable agreement was reached. The agreement was adopted following the consensus of the 195 participating members (and the European Union) of the United Nations Climate Change Conference on 12 December 2015. The 12-page agreement indicates a promissory consent by the parties to as soon as possible reduce carbon gas emissions and consequently reduce the carbon output thereby keeping the global warming “to well below 2 degrees C”.

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President Buhari signing the Paris Agreement

While we jubilate and commend the Federal Government on taking responsibility to lower the rate of climate change, it is also necessary that we halt for a moment to call and clamor for the full implementation of this agreement and also understand how we can collectively work towards achieving the goals of what the President ratified on behalf of every citizen of the Federal Republic.

But how can Nigeria work towards achieving this goal within the time frame of 2030? This is a million dollar question indeed.

Ratifying this agreement will mean that each of the 36 states of the republic plan and map out effective strategies to augment the FG’s effort, whatever be it. The city of Abuja is yet to achieve the “green city” status even with some beautiful landscapes. Some parts are characterized by pollution, encroachment and most despicably, indiscipline in the management of resources and adherence to development recommendations. What then will one think of many other cities (especially state capitals) within the country? Therefore, it has become necessary that each of the three tiers of government and the three arms of government at all levels work together to determine the best ways to keep the promise of reducing the carbon emission in Nigeria.

The Paris Agreement is binding and Nigeria has signed and promised to reduce carbon output up to 20% by 2030. In fact, the country’s lead negotiator to COP21, Dr. Adeoye Adejuwon, assures of up to 45% given the required assistance. Given Nigeria’s long history of dependence on foreign aids and assistance in carrying out some projects like this, what form of assistance is Adejuwon talking about?

I am yet to lay hands on the government’s roadmap for actualizing this, but I believe it is going to be a challenging one, but absolutely possible, given the will and determination. Less carbon emission will mean that Nigeria shifts virtually every sector from production to distribution of whatever to only clean and sustainable means. This would mean less private cars on the roads, lower industrial energy inputs, cleaner energy and most importantly, cleaner power generation.

As aptly captured by the United States Secretary of States, John Kerry, the COP21 Paris Agreement is a “critical message to the global marketplace” for investment purposes. This however, is most critical time for Nigeria to work assiduously and decisively towards achieving a meaning socio-economic development, sustainably. At a time when power generation is getting lower for some reasons absolutely avoidable, it is critical to move towards harnessing the natural and infinite resources given to us by Mother Nature. Solar power generation has been preached by many and I believe it is time we invest massively to actualize this.

On 8th August, I wrote an article on Nigeria’s economic diversification plans and how to make it sustainable (you can read it again here). A greener economic diversification will have to ensure that the roadmap and every framework for actualizing this effectively are done within the ambit of sustainable practices. The sectors involved must work hand-in-hand with the environment ministry to adopt climate smart agriculture and solid minerals mining and development.

The issue of carbon burning by industries can be regulated. In many countries around the world, industries are consistently kept on their toes by governments, NGOs and even private individuals on the quantity of waste output they produce and dispose on the lands and sea bodies. In our own country, the energy input used by factories and industries is high and not green. They rely on diesel and petroleum powered generators as alternative sources of energy for running their power-consuming plants for production. To balance effects, high energy input results in high carbon outputs. Private users are not excluded from this scenario, many residents are left to fend for themselves and provide power and water for domestic use.

Will the FG compel state governments to take up responsibility for their states or will it work jointly, especially in a time of economic recession and a time when many states primarily rely on the FG’s monthly allocation which is at times not even enough to pay workers’ salaries, let alone carryout developmental projects. How will the government make the citizens and big corporations to adhere to practices to checkmate gas flaring, deforestation, desert encroachment, oil spillage and pollution? Will the government wait for foreign aids and assistance? Will they send bills to the legislative arms to compel everyone to adopt only sustainable practices? How does she intend to swing into action as soon as possible to fulfill its own part of the pact? These are questions we expect to have answers to as soon as possible.

 

Blog written by Abdulmumin

IMG_0004 copyAbdulmumin Tanko has a master’s degree in Civil Engineering with an insatiable desire for research and writing. A staunch environmental enthusiast and a fervent campaigner for environmental consciousness, he works to break the silence and end the nescience, largely responsible for environmental indiscretion. . He believes that a serene and safer environment begins with YOU. Follow him on Twitter @Tikaysmalls

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Making Building and Construction More Environment friendly; Lessons from GreenBuild Conference

Buildings are so important to our lives that we spend up to 90% of our time daily inside them. We go from our homes, to offices, to shopping malls, to fitness centres and the list goes on. Buildings shape our cities and our lives in many ways. They affect our health, productivity and even creative potentials. This is the extent to which they affect our lives. But how do they affect our environment?

Buildings, by sector, are the largest consumers of energy in the world. About 39% in proportion. More so, they are responsible for about one third of the global greenhouse gas emissions.

With the recent ratification of COP21 agreement by many countries in the world, including Nigeria , it is pertinent that efforts should be stepped up by stakeholders in the building and construction sector to reduce the carbon footprint of the industry.

From the 2nd to 7th October, industry professionals in the green building sector of the United States and around the world gathered in Los Angeles to participate in the annual Green Build Conference.  On the invitation of the United States Green Building Council, I joined over 33,000 people in attending the August event. Architects, engineers, urban planners, quantity surveyors, other stakeholders in the sector, from the private, government, academia and nonprofit organizations were in attendance.

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The 5-day event featured a number of education sessions surrounding green building. By theme, the sessions revolve around communities and affordable homes, energy efficiency and production of eco-friendly materials. A large exposition hall was dedicated to companies advertising their products and services, including universities running sustainability programmes.

With my background in Civil Engineering and active research in urban built environment, most of the sessions I attended were talking about energy efficiency of buildings.

Having made the claim earlier that buildings by sector, are the largest consumers of the total energy produced in the world, the biggest opportunity green buildings offer is that of reducing energy consumption and subsequent GHG emissions. Our heating, ventilating and air-conditioning equipment need to consume less energy while providing optimum thermal comfort.

For instance in Nigeria, the large chunk of power consumption goes in trying to cool our indoor spaces or keeping our food frozen in the refrigerator. The tropical climate of Nigeria makes it relatively warm round the year, especially for the northern part. Thus, for engineers to go green, they need to start bioclimatic designs of buildings. Designing and constructing buildings in cognizance of the local climate.

Generally, engineers should aim for maximum natural ventilation in order to reduce the need for mechanical cooling. Heat sinks like concrete should be avoided because it absorbs heat when the sun shines on it and during the night, when the environment is supposed to be cooler, it becomes hot because the concrete is now breathing out the heat it absorbed during the day.

These represent some of the strategies we need to be looking at for us to make our buildings more environment friendly while saving us a lot of money.

GreenBuild education sessions advocate for more user engagement in designing energy efficiency programmes. Because ultimately, the users will be responsible for the usage of the energy consuming appliances and their behaviors will affect this usage. Designers need to know the occupants, the occupants’ choices in terms of schedule, temperature, lighting etc. and also how the occupants think. While occupancy engagement might be challenging, whenever designers of public buildings like malls, offices, schools, hospitals, etc. have the opportunity to do that, they should as it will profit the environment more if they are engaged.

Integrative process and community engagement should be human-centered  design, a speaker mentioned during one of the sessions. Every green building is a story about people. Therefore, green buildings should change the way we design buildings.

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Going green might be worrisome when initial costs are considered. But because a green building is not only considered during the initial stage, a life cycle assessment of the building is required. Therefore, in the long run, all investments made on going green will pay off on the owner through energy savings and on the environment.

A dedicated session for contractors made bold statements on the challenges of going green. Money will always be a factor and the gains must be satisfied. Market incentives should be in place to galvanize clients and contractors in going green.

One of such market strategies is the US green building rating system, Leadership in Energy and Environment Development (LEED). Its objective is to certify how green or environment friendly a building is. Based on gauged environment strategies relating to site, energy use, water use, materials and indoor environment quality, buildings score points in order for them to be LEED certified. This certification process cuts across all building types, residential, commercial, schools, new building, existing building and even neighborhoods get certified. Most clients in the US nowadays request for LEED certified buildings, because of the benefits.

The vision is therefore broad. The number of participants was overwhelming and reassuring to understand how important the greening of the building sector is.

Professionals in the building sector in Nigeria must take a cue and start going greener in order to safeguard our lives and the environment.

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Written by Sadiq.

Behrendt & Rausch FotografieSadiq Abubakar Gulma steers the organizational mission of Green Habitat. He is a member of the Green Talents International Forum for High Potentials in Sustainable Development, a LEED accredited green building professional and has a master’s degree in Environmental Engineering. His research interest and work lie in investigating and improving the thermal conditions of urban built environments. Follow him on Twitter @TheCivineer

Posted in Building & construction | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Why Drainages in Nigerian Cities Do Not Prevent Floods

In the current state of rapid urbanization rate around the world, functioning of infrastructure is necessary to ensure the wellbeing of residences in the cities. Drainage system is one of such structures whose failure can put a whole city on hold. Municipal drainage system constitutes artificial network of open or closed ditches or pipes with the main purpose of conveying storm water from the city. In Nigeria, many cities suffer from poorly designed as well as poorly maintained drainage networks.

Poor drainage system contributes greatly to the most of the flash floods in our cities. With most extreme rainfall events as a result of climate change being expected to largely affect African continent, effective drainage system would play a significant role in mitigating flood disasters that may occur.

Planning and Management

For most cities in Nigeria, the issue traces back to the planning and maintenance of the drainage systems. A well planned city shall have an efficient drainage network system that ensures the effectiveness and performance of other infrastructures. Unfortunately, even where there is a proper city plan, sticking to it becomes a huge challenge. The main reasons for that being lack of coordination between development/planning authorities and other sectors as well as apathy of the general public towards proper city planning.

Considering Abuja as an example, there have been complaints of many buildings being developed without proper drainage provisions. In some cases, developments are approved at locations blocking sewage lines and waterways. In addition to rendering the sewage and drainage networks inefficient, such buildings are also susceptible to foundation failures that result to collapse.

Similarly, a 2011 study conducted by Akukwe Thecla, a lecturer at the University of Nigeria Nsukka, on the causes of flooding in Port Harcourt revealed that most part of the city do not have adequate drainage facilities. This is despite the fact that Rivers State Government proposed a robust Greater Port Harcourt Development Plan in 2008 that could have transformed the city.

Maintenance of structures is as important as putting them in place. It is even more important for drainage system because failure or blockage at a single point renders the whole network ineffective. The dreadful state of drainages in Nigerian cities makes it seem as if there is no agency in charge of managing them or that the agency is not discharging its responsibility.

Waste disposal

The most unfortunate plight surrounding our drainage systems is blockage from indiscriminate dumping of solid waste. This can partly be blamed on the absence of proper waste collection system as well as our collective lack of good sanitary attitude. Most people throw away trash in open areas without any second thought of the consequences. Such refuse gets transported by wind into the drains and becomes a source of blockage with time thereby undermining smooth water flow.

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Blockage of drainages by refuse is a common sight in Nigeria (Source: Capital FM Abuja)

Disposal of waste in the open area has become a culture such that people do not even take notice of trash bins where they are provided. Street vending, especially of sachet water, other drinks and foodstuff is a contributing factor to the problem. Providing trash cans to accommodate such would require the cans be placed all over our cities. The menace of plastic waste in drainages does not stop at drain blockage. It usually ends up at large water bodies causing serious pollution and putting aquatic lives in danger.

As if that is not enough, household waste is often disposed by the road side in most neighborhoods. Instead of waste collection trucks taking garbage from houses, it is a common practice in most Nigerian cities for people to dispose it at certain locations while the trucks haul it to the landfill after it accumulates over a period of time. Unfortunately, some of these temporary disposal spots end up becoming permanent landfills.

A study carried out in 2013 by A. W. Butu and B. R. Ageda (Nigerian Defence Academy Kaduna) and A. A. Bichi (Federal College of Euducation Kano) in 2013 discovered several heaps of municipal waste across Abuja environs. Most of the refuse dumps were found to cause blockage to the drainages making them incapable of conveying runoff. When stagnation occurs, a dump can become a source of air pollution discharging heavy smell. Some of the materials contained in the solid waste are toxic with harmful chemicals that may pollute surface and groundwater in the area.

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Road side refuse disposal is common at some neighborhoods in Abuja (Source: Butu et al. 2013)

In addition to flood and pollution, poor drainage system is also responsible for road failures in many cases. The biggest enemy of tarred roads, which are commonly used in Nigeria, is water that does not quickly drain away. Poor drainage leads to road failure long before it reaches its design life.

The problems surrounding the drainage systems in Nigerian cities are evidently not the fault of few but we all play a role. It is therefore necessary for us to collectively work toward maintaining the valuable infrastructure. My next post will discuss what is required of a sustainable city with respect to drainage system.

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Written by Sada.

sadaSada Haruna  is the IT strategist at Green Habitat and a contributor to the blog. He is a PhD student in the department of Environmental Engineering at the University of Ottawa. His current research focuses on safe disposal of toxic mine wastes and remains an ardent advocate of environmental sustainability. He enjoys reading and coding at his leisure time. Follow him on Twitter @H_Sadah

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