Massive environmental degradation has been the subject of heightened
concern across southeast Nigeria as the region continues to be plagued
by an erosion crisis that has grown worse over the years.
Driving around southeast Nigeria, examples of soil erosion at its worst are a common sight. Deep gullies, washed away homes, bridges and roads are hard to ignore. Anambra is easily the worst affected state in the region. The state's environment commissioner Michael Egbebike speaks to VOA.
"The nature of the soil we have in the state, climatic conditions make Anambra one of the worst hit areas when it comes to erosion," he said. "It is on record that we have more than 1,000 erosion sites in the state, more than 500 are active. I should call this a major disaster in Anambra state, and that is what we are dealing with here."
Residents say the 50-year-old problem has grown worse because the authorities failed to make repairs when their attention was drawn to it at the onset. Several other factors have combined to amplify the severity of the erosion. According to Environment Commissioner Egbebike, local residents have also contributed to the problem.
"Some of the problem of erosion is created by our people, by our attitude to waste disposal," he said. "When we dump garbage in the drains that are built by government we simply aggravate the problem of erosion. And this waste combined with the force of the flood and trying to erode the soil and sometimes they actually block the channel that has been created for flood dispersion and the floods come back and actually destroy their homes, and at that point they call on government."
Idiani, a small community in Anambra state, has seen enormous damage to its homes, crops and infrastructure. The villagers also risk being swept to their death by flood water during the rainy season. Village head Harrison Okoye describes the devastating effects of gully erosion.
"My village Town Hall built with a huge sum of money has been swallowed," he said. "And a lot of economic trees gone. The Anglican Church is on the verge of going. One man from Egboku after going to wedding, seeing the volume of water, he stopped his car to see the depth so that he will know how to pass. As soon as he stepped down, he was swept off to the stream down there and that was the end of the man."
Environmentalists warn once it takes hold, it becomes a losing battle to reverse landslides and degradation. In neighboring Abatete residents, including Efobi Okeke, are not giving up on their homes and community.
"Usually you cannot fold your arms and get your house being carried away into the gullies," he said. "So people are making efforts on their own but the situation is such that individuals cannot handle alone."
A recent geological study of the environmental degradation in Anambra reported it will cost about $2 billion to address the gully erosion problem in the area. Environment Commissioner Ebgebike says funding is critical and appeals for international help to deal with the situation.
"We have a shortage of resources," he said. "The state is struggling because the monies spent on this erosion problem are huge sums of money. So we will of course need a lot of help from the international community and the federal government. Alone it would be a Herculean task for Anambra state."
In the meantime, Abatete and Idiani residents, like others across the southeast, are clinging to the last of their homes, even as erosion continues its unstoppable conquest across the region.