A major step was taken recently in Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital, where nature conservation practitioners gathered for two days to fashion out a way to save the threatened biological diversity of the Niger Delta region in Nigeria.
While it harbors a large reserve of untapped oil and gas, the sprawling region is characterised by high biodiversity, abundant natural resources and extreme poverty. Believed to be one of the largest wetlands in the world and Africa’s largest delta, the region produces an estimated 2.2 million barrels of oil per day.
Decades of oil exploration, characterised by persisting pollution of land and sea, has led to large scale degradation of the environment, putting the areas rich biodiversity at risk. While residents’ source of livelihood and lifestyle are on one hand dwindling, several species of flora and fauna are, on the other, facing extinction.
But succour may just be around the corner, thanks to an initiative aimed at contributing to the conservation and sustainable use of globally significant biological diversity in the Niger Delta, with the overall objective to mainstream biodiversity management priorities into the region’s oil and gas (O & G) sector development policies and operations.
Funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF), the project is being implemented by the Federal Ministry of Environment and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).
The scheme aims to strengthen the governance framework of law, policy and institutional capacity for the mainstreaming process; adopt and pilot new biodiversity action planning tools for proactive mainstreaming; and support for long-term biodiversity management and the use of the new tools in the region by capitalising a Niger Delta Biodiversity Trust.
To attain these outcomes, several constituted expert working groups were inaugurated in Port Harcourt, where a representative of the Environment Minister (Laurentia Mallam), Halima Mohammed, lauded the initiative, saying that it calls for new ways of doing business in the delta.
“Government, being one of the major players in the industry, aligns itself with the stated goals and objectives. If government, the O & G industry and local communities adopt and pilot new biodiversity action planning tools for proactive biodiversity mainstreaming in the Niger Delta, a major shift would have been achieved for the benefit of biodiversity and its sustainable utilisation,” says Mohammed, who doubles as an Assistant Director in the Environment Ministry and a GEF Desk Officer.
She adds: “An engagement mechanism is very important to ensuring a platform for communication among all players for the benefit of the biodiversity of the region. The innovative funding mechanism which the project recommends is commendable. As a major stakeholder, we have already ensured our buy-in.
“However, it is recognised that the peculiar nature of the delta demands a regular review and update of strategies. We salute the UNDP for the catalytic role it is playing in the sustainable management of the situation.”
Director-General/Chief Executive Officer, National Oil Spill Detection and Response Agency (NOSDRA), Sir Peter Idabor, describes the National Oil Spill Contingency Plan (NOSCP) as a veritable tool in biodiversity management because the plan’s primary concern is to ensure that the region’s rich biodiversity resources are protected from the impact of oil spill by putting in place adequate preparedness, control and response measures for sustainability.
According to him the NOSCP – a blueprint for the management of all oil spills in the Nigerian environment, especially three-tier-level incidents – has mainstreamed the sensitivities of the biological diversity of the Niger Delta to oil spill incidents for the purpose of identifying high risks for effective protection.
National Coordinator of the Niger Delta Biodiversity Project, Matthew Dore, discloses that the geographic focus of the project is on the four core states within the Niger Delta (Akwa Ibom, Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers) which. Combined, encompass an area of 46,420 km2 (the ‘indirect landscape mainstreaming target’).
“The physical footprint of the O&G company assets within this area is admitted by the industry to be 600 km2, which is considered the project’s initial ‘direct landscape mainstreaming target’,” he as, stressing that the project would bring improved biodiversity management to these areas indirectly and directly.
A total of eight groups were incorporated at the forum. One of such groups (Group 6) is seeking to devise a Niger Delta Community Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP). Chaired by environmental activist, Nnimmo Bassey, the group of 12 members notes that community engagement should focus on local communities’ dependence on ecological resources for food, water, livelihood and aesthetic wellbeing.
Bassey, who is a member of the Environment Committee at the ongoing National Conference, listed criteria for selecting sites for the project to include: accessibility; possession of reasonable and recognised biodiversity at the global, national and local levels; freedom from disputes; and demonstration of a high sense of leadership.