Environmental Hazards In Africa – Save Our Community of Africa


Humans have doubtless been altering their local environments since arriving in the scene as a distinct species several hundred thousand years ago. Our debut as major actors on the global stage – actors comparable in influence to the classic roles played by erosion, volcanism, natural selection, and the like- is a much more recent phenomenon. This dates back at most several thousand years, but has accelerated greatly in scope and influence over the last several centuries. According to Crutzen (2002) ” We live today in what may be called the “Anthropocene” – a new geologic epoch in which human kind has emerged as a globally significant – and potentially intelligent – force capable of reshaping the face of the planet”. The Italian geologist Anthonio Stoppani (1873) was describing humanity’s activities as a “new telluric force, which in power and universality may be compared to the greater forces of the Earth”. Several international conferences have been held to tackle environmental problems. Examples are, UN conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro Brazil, 1992, World summit on Sustainable Development, held in Johannesburg in 2002, etc. The need for harnessing science and technology in support of efforts to achieve the goal of environmentally sustainable human development in the Anthropocene was generally recognized at the Johannesburg Summit. Environmental hazards are contemporary issue in Africa but before I delve into the causes of the problems and some solutions, I would give some definitions and features of environment. I shall also use Nigeria (an African Country) as a case study because of the limitations of the work.


The unfortunate older, wrong and simplistic definition of environment is that it is the resource that was created for human use. It is that mechanical aspect that exists to serve human beings. This definition is unfortunate and wrong for it explained environment as something inanimate; something in at that exists solely for human recreation pleasures and needs. The background to this definition includes the anthropological, religious, psychological, economic and philosophical explanations of the origin and nature of the environment. Environment is also defined as the natural in which people, animals and plants live. Uchebu (1998) categorized the environment into physical and non-physical. The physical environment includes land (Terrestrial) Air, Water (Acquatic) environments and non-physical – cultural and socio- economic environment. The environment therefore functions according to Kankwenda (2001) as:

(1) A source of raw materials and energy (non – renewable resources);

(2) A provider of services such as maintenance of climatic system/stability and ecological cycle (renewable resources) including forest, agriculture land, water etc;

(3) And a sink for waste.


Environmental problems are about the central issue of the twentieth and twenty-first (20th -21st ) centuries. This is because the hazards, which are contained in it, are as deep and grave as they are long lasting in its effect to MAN and the eco-system itself. According to the “Awake” magazine, mankind is presently sitting on a time-bomb on account of environmental effects either in form of weaponry and/or pollutions and hazards such as flooding, drought, soil erosion, deforestation, volcanity, earthquakes, radio-chemical hazards etc.

Nigeria as a nation encompasses multiple climate which requires and sraddles various physiographic units. There are various ecological zones ranging from Sahel Savanna, Sudan Savanna and Guinea Savanna through Rain forest to Mangroves and Swamp forests. The various ecological zones respond differently to the impact of human activities by virtue of their natural stress response capabilities and inherent carry capabilities. The Sahelian Savanna is highly susceptible to desertification; the Sudan Savanna can barely cope with human pressures emanating from rapidly growing populations, fuel woods, harvesting and cattle grazing. The Guinea zone is ordinarily subjected to pressures as a natural buffer between the encroaching desert and the forest belt. The Rain forest belt is under excessive pressure through poor regulation and over-exploitation of forest products and other economic activities that result in clearing of vast area of land. Compounding this, especially in the Niger Delta area, is the large scale exploration, exploitation and processing activities by the petroleum industry, which have left their impact through crude oil and petroleum product spillages, gas flaring – related problems, land degradation and depletion of farm lands, water pollution and deterioration of critical habitats for fish stock. Occurrence of soil and gully erosion, especially in the eastern part of Nigeria, flooding in the low lying belt of mangrove and fresh water swamps, and uncontrolled logging with its inherent problems of destruction and loss of bio-diversity have immensely contributed towards further exacerbation of the deteriorating environmental scenario.

The above are the various causes and effects of environmental hazards in Nigeria. But there are major noticeable changes in the environment as a result of human pressure on it. These include viz

(1) Loss of biodiversity resulting in reduced variety of genetic strains, species and ecosystems, depletion and extinction of species etc.

(2) Increasing rate of soil degradation and desertification as well as air and water pollution.

(3) Increase in green houses gases that are expected to lead to an increase in the mean global temperature of 200 to 500C.(Global Warming)

(4) Massive release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) into the stratosphere resulting in increasing ultraviolet radiation from the sun due to depletion of ozone layer


The prognosis for continued and sustainable improvements in human well being on a transformed environment is, at best, guarded. The two broad causes of environmental hazards are the industrially caused environmental pollution and the wasteful private consumption by whole population living under modern urban conditions. Whereas the former evil is done by a very limited number of humanity, the latter is perpetrated by the whole humanity whose greed has been fired by advertising following the industrial age to want to have more and more things and wastes the resources of nature. Consequently, while political regulations, laws, civil movements/pressure groups can force industries to safeguard the environment. Such coercive and institutional measures cannot work for the pollution by the whole citizenry. Rather a change of attitude and action towards environmental sustainability would be based on the voluntary action of individuals. Because whatever affects and pollutes the environment is also of effect to us. I therefore canvass for an approach or relation between man and environment called “Ecocentrism”. The spirit behind this approach is to posit that environment is actually animate in the sense of being alive. It is therefore wrong to interpret environment as inert or inanimate.

Thus, the practical way forward for man to check environmental pollution and hazards according to Chigbo Joseph are viz

– Limit consumption of resources to a minimum and devise ways to use waste products in production.

– Making maximum use of the physical energy of the human body in order to maintain greater human health.

– Caution on use of the artificials additives to foods and other chemical products and be aware that harm almost invariably accompanies whatever good these substances do.

– Scientists and technologists to be ethically/humbly centered in their research and production

– Leaders to be imbued with the consciousness of saving man and the planet earth in their decisions.

In addition to the above, there should be establishment of regulatory agencies with varying powers to monitor and effectively control the sources of pollutants. Example is FEPA – Federal Environmental Protection Agency/Federal Ministry of Environment.

In a nutshell, the environment is a complex and delicate system which (I) if properly managed it can be geared to productive and domestic aesthetic and even spiritual requirements (ii) when poorly managed, the environment could easily become hazardous and threatening to human survival.

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International Environmental Law and Policy of Sustainable Development

It is evident that States and International organizations are the primary sources of international law. However, international environmental law is the impact of efforts from non-government organizations and state authorities. There have been positive efforts made on law and policy making in the field of international environmental law in nations such as United States, Germany, Japan, Russia, South Africa, Brazil, China, India and Indonesia. In most cases, environmental protection has been witnessed in those nations in which there is a guaranteed constitutional right to a pollution free healthy environment. For instance, the law in Costa Rica, Latin America, Constitution of Chile, Hungary, South Africa etc., provides for a ‘right to pollution free environment’. Several European member-states have amended their constitutions after the fall of communism and have included right to environment as a justifiable right in the constitution.

In federal states, local governments legislate on environmental issues within their own jurisdiction. The law and policies initiated by different nations and their local regions have influenced each other towards evolving a state practice of transnational environmental regulations. In this respect the state and national level administrative and bureaucratic agencies have played a vital role to create environmental activism.

Additionally, on a global level the organs of United Nations have served as key actors in the process of environment protection law making. For instance, the role played by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO), the International Maritime Organization (IMO), the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund cannot be overlooked since they have helped initiate action among states and pre-existing international organizations including the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), and the Commission on Sustainable Development (CSD).

Nevertheless, at every level, local, national, international there have been several disagreements with regard to decision making concerning environmental issues. In particular, at a global level although there is a comprehensive institutional framework, there is complete absence of unanimity with respect to environmental decisions. It is therefore a challenge to create an order of international environmental governance with sustainable development as priority concern.

It was not until the late 1980s that sustainable development started to be included on a frequent basis in international texts, first primarily in political documents and then in binding treaty texts. One of the first treaties to use the term, and notably outside the environmental context, was the 1990 Agreement establishing the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Despite the continued political disagreement, the concept of sustainable development has now been included within a significant number of binding and non-binding texts both at the regional and global level. However, in 2012 the international community noticed at the World Summit on Sustainable Development that the progress was most unsatisfactory.

Humanity stands at a defining moment in history, and we need to realize that integration of environment, development concerns and greater attention to them will lead to the fulfillment of basic needs and improved living standards for all; a surety for an eco-friendly prosperous future. No nation can achieve this dependently, but together we can in a global partnership for sustainable development.

Hence development and conservation of the environment should go hand in hand. Governments of all nations (under-developed, developing, and developed) should adopt a development policy that assures pollution control. In this sense international environmental law faces its greatest challenges to meet developmental and environmental needs of present and future generations.