Nigerian churches and deforestation

By | October 21, 2009

I just read about the threat that drought poses in the northern part of Nigeria in an editorial in Next:

Nigerian environmentalists have been speaking about the degradation of the Nigerian environment but now, government officials have also joined the chorus.

The latest was the warning from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) that the northern parts of the country may experience drought this year. According to the agency, about 11 states in the north will be affected.

The implication of this for the nation’s security is enormous. For starters, most of the grains, fibre and livestock that are consumed in the country come from the north. And Nigeria’s agricultural sector is still stuck in its pre-modern mode, where farmers rely on seasonal rains for their planting schedule. Billions of naira spent on several dams across the north has not led to the expectation of ensuring year-round farming through irrigation.

But this is only one part of the problem. Drought would also, naturally affect people’s access to water. As it is, several of Nigeria’s rivers are under pressure and a number of them might just vanish altogether. Experts have already sounded the warning that one of the largest inland bodies of water in the world, the Lake Chad could disappear in 20 years. Right now, demand for water has shrunk the lake by 95 percent since the 1960s, leaving only sand and scrub in previously watery parts. This has already impacted on the livelihoods of people in the area and is said to be one of the reasons for the high level of criminality around the Chad Basin area and neighbouring states.

More persistent drought is also likely to affect the country’s demographics. Drought is a precursor to the raging desertification that is already turning large swathes of the country into sweltering sand. The Sahara desert is advancing into Nigeria at the rate of 3,510 square kilometres per year and this might just increase over time. A recent aerial survey conducted by the Yobe State Ministry of Environment indicates that productive and mass land occupied by sand dunes has increased from 25,000 hectares to more than 30,000 hectares.

What also bothers me is the deforestation that is going on in the southern part of the country:

Meanwhile, the country is fast depleting its forest cover. A report from the Federal Ministry of Environment says the country loses its forest by more than 30 million tonnes a year to people relying on firewood as their only source of cooking fuel. This is not helped by official policy that takes kerosene and cooking gas out of the reach of the poor across the country.

But that is not even the kind of deforestation that comes to my mind. I am thinking of the large swathes of land that have been sold to churches along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Once the Redeemed Christian Church of God got to the expressway (many members of the church claim that the Redemption Camp that the church built there helped deal with armed robbery on the expressway) many other churches followed and bought huge pieces of land to build themselves ‘camp grounds’. The muslim organisation Nasfat is also building one there. These are really large swathes of land, no kidding.

But then, Nigeria is a highly religious country, and anyone who dares describe churches as agents of deforestation will be quickly condemned. But that is what they are, at least as far as that stretch of land is concerned.

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