If unchecked, Port-Harcourt may become the next New Delhi. Since 2016, they have been battling a huge menace in the form of dust particles and soot hence the hash tag #StopThe Soot. Unfortunately, Governor Wike has been preoccupied with other weightier matters like ascertaining his stronghold on the state while fending away uniformed men after the rich juicy heritage of the oil producing state. Last year, breathing clean air in Port-Harcourt was tough, so much that the people cried but no one heard them. Sadly their voices have now died down, and yet nothing has been done about that till date.
According to the World Health Organization, an “alarming” 7 million people die each year from air pollution, as air pollution levels remain dangerously high in many parts of the world. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO said breathing polluted air can lead to heart disease, a stroke and lung cancer. If left to fester, the increased air pollution poses major health risks for residents in the area. Scientists found out dirty air caused more premature deaths than unsafe water, unsafe sanitation, and malnutrition in Africa in 2013.
I was particularly moved when I read A Tale of Two Delhis: Deadly Air Exposes Rich Poor Divide as authored by Channels Television. Just like the title of the piece suggests, the rich in their bid to combat air pollution have employed the use of eco-eateries to offer clean air for themselves while exploiting the poor by adding modern menus beyond their reach. As an oligarchy, they have managed to preserve their elite status by procuring machineries in their homes, offices and restaurants to cater for their respiratory needs while allowing the poor to die on the streets of New Delhi. The story comes from the perspective of a poor cyclist risking his life and struggling to make ends meet juxtaposed alongside an office worker who has his lunch at a grand commercial centre boasting purified air.
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For the working class man whose singular lunch is twice the poor cyclist’s daily wage; his motive for eating in a high-end eatery is the installation of electronic air purifiers and creation of dedicated areas of rich vegetation to help filter airborne toxins. Can you imagine getting to a situation when the lack of sustainable clean air will begin to influence your restaurant choices? This is what many other relaxation spots in New Delhi have begun to tap into to provide more value for their customers- an obvious luxury the poor can never afford. The New Delhi Government just like the Rivers State Government, last year, put measures in place to curb the dirty particles circulating in the air. Nevertheless, the short term arrangements didn’t do much to augment the effect of toxic air to the lungs. According to a study published in Lancet Planetary Health in December, 1.24 million people died in India in 2017 as a result of air pollution. That accounts for 12.5 per cent of all deaths in the country. Of the deaths attributed to air pollution, 51.4 per cent of victims were younger than 70.
While fears have been heightened that the toxic air in Rivers could spread to other states, we must find courage to crave healthier environments. Health is wealth and the universe can always choose to react against the ill-treatment of man. If the universe could talk, it would berate us for deviating from the status quo. It is sad to note that man is the enemy of himself and ultimately, his own progress. Man’s technological advancement and industrialisation have created this monster that is literally smoking life out of our lungs! Life was initially green before companies and processed foods came about. Due to the recent trend of terminal illnesses without cure like HIV, Cancer and a host of them, a strict redirection back to the basis of leafy greens have been recommended for a longer life span on earth. Same also goes for the industrial revolution that have far taken up our cities and deforested our green vast lands. We are currently being urged to abandon emissions from industries, traces of lead in our lungs, and forced to accept the use of clean energy for the generations yet unborn.
The future of deforestation and industrialization has brought us a lifetime supply of toxic air, dust particles, incombustible hydrocarbons, and adverse climatic changes. If we continue to go down this road, we will have to beg nature for clean air and maybe trade so much of our wealth for an oxygen can and breathing masks to get by. We must desist from going down this path or we will pay dearly for it. Sadly, this is the least of Nigerians concern at present. However, we must take heed now, before it becomes a huge problem.