How the world’s worst underwater ecosystem is going under

Written by Staff Writer

“Erosion is a disaster we cannot sustain.”

And so says Ganiu Obadia, a second cousin of President Muhammadu Buhari and the founder of Nigeria’s International Association of Fishermen and Quakers.

This African nation is enduring a wave of severe erosion problems after decades of petroleum development at the epicenter of Nigeria’s oil wealth. Industrial processes such as fracking mean oil lies deeper underground than it has in the past, and the climate there is changing — increasing the likelihood of fresh water washing away from aquifers.

“If you don’t look after the environment, where will you get water to water your cows and to put food on your table?” asks Obadia.

Under pressure from activists on both sides of the issue, President Buhari set up a task force to sort out the mess and spend $10 billion over five years for a flood prevention scheme.

A rundown of the most damaging of the problem areas:

Ogbikwu lake, northeast of Nigeria

Lake Ogboju, southeast of Nigeria

Ogbikwu Lake

The government uses funding for dredging, excavating and the destruction of structures in much of the oil-rich Niger Delta in the country’s southeast. To date, the lake has failed to rebound after being filled.

Ogbukwu Lake is estimated to contain 66 billion cubic meters of water, but is now a ghostly black reflection of its former glory. Source: Environmental Protection Agency

“We found many of our pipelines submerged in the ground or taken away during the excavation work. Most of the water that was injected through the pipelines is wasted now because the lake has dried up. This has been a nightmare for us,” says Michael Ajawon, an oil worker who worked with the Petroleum Equalization Fund.

Lake Ogboju

The Ogboju lake, about 500 miles (800 kilometers) southeast of the capital Abuja, is home to more than 100 communities. It’s part of an environmental crisis not of its own making, but as industrial activity has caused the lake to dry up.

The state and federal governments have turned to force to overcome the problem — using military force to keep villagers away from the lake to prevent them committing crimes.

Lake Akobiri, in the Niger Delta

Lake Akobiri, about 2,300 kilometers south of Abuja in the Niger Delta is home to 10,000 people but has been completely rebuilt by military force after the home of an oil worker was destroyed during a 2012 fight.

The difference was dramatic, in terms of level of damage:

Lake Bonny, northeast of Nigeria

Lake Bonny

The beauty of this community, East Bay of Bonny, is what’s left of what once was. The community is located about 2,300 kilometers southeast of the capital Abuja.

“The government has been concerned about the situation but is not doing anything except with brute force. They do not want to do anything that could further exacerbate the situation,” says Lagos-based Tarjeo Akun, spokesman for the The charity of residents of East Bay of Bonny feel abandoned by their politicians and in a dire state, but little can be done, according to Akun.

Renewable energy and better water regulation would help to ease the strain. Source: Environmental Protection Agency

“If you cannot generate enough electricity in this country, which is a country of over 180 million people, what are you going to use for drinking water? We have about the third driest country in the world,” he says.

“What we need is to recycle our water, to bring up better water management, to look at the conditions of our communities, to reduce the distance residents have to travel to town to access clean water.”

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