The rich oil city of Port Harcourt located in the heart of the Niger Delta popularly called the garden city has faced numerous environmental challenges in recent times. Apart from the heaps of waste scattered about the once beautiful city with serene environment, the soot pollution affecting Port Harcourt and it’s environs has caused a major uproar thereby raising the interests and investigation of the international community.
: a black substance formed by combustion or separated from fuel during combustion, rising in fine particles, and adhering to the sides of the chimney or pipe conveying the smoke; especially the fine powder consisting chiefly of carbon that colors smoke.
For 2 years the black mist-like substance has enveloped the city and it has caused major discomfort to all residents. The black dust accumulates in our homes and makes it look dirty even when it is cleaned thoroughly and regularly. It is noticeable on our window nets, walls, bed sheets, floors, toilets and the feet of little children innocently playing around the home. Even when we clean up daily, the black soot accumulates quickly sometimes within hours of thorough housecleaning. The soot is really bad in settlements located around the creeks because the illegal refineries and activities are carried out there; areas like Woji, Peter Odili road, town and illaobuchi settlements are seriously affected. Inhalation of this hazardous substance is a must if you reside in Port Harcourt and go about your daily activities in the city. Our major concern is that we do not know the actual composition of soot we are inhaling and how it is affecting our bodies. Research shows us that the soot can be carcinogenic and can lead to the development of rare diseases and respiratory illnesses. A great number of children who were born without asthma have developed asthma and breathing disorders. Upper respiratory illnesses’ have been on the increase in small government health centers scattered around The city. Stories of deaths and strange illnesses are springing upon a daily basis and there is a strong connection with these happenings and the soot pollution.
The city of Port Harcourt and Rivers state as a whole is fast becoming unsuitable for living.
The most affected people are the poor or low income earners. My colleague and I visited one of the slum settlement located in the illaobuchi area where this kpofire activities are frequently carried out. We spoke to mothers who complained bitterly about the effects of the soot on their children. They noticed that their children were coughing constantly and could not breathe properly. Most times they had to go to the chemist to get them drugs. They wanted us to tell the government to help them stop the soot because they can't afford buying drugs anymore. At least the high income earners and the middle income earners can afford to buy air purifiers and air conditioners that can help reduce the health effects of soot inhalation and also pay hospital bills when their children are sick, the poor are left with no way to cope because they cannot afford it. Mr Ebi who also, is a resident and a father living around the Elechi beach area begged the security agents in charge of fighting the illegal refinery gangs to stop burning of seized illegal products as it aggravates the soot pollution. He also spoke of the decline in water-life around there as there were no fishes or crabs in the creeks anymore as some of the seized products are dumped inside the creek which is serious environmental pollution and degradation.
The illegal refineries operators make close to 300, 000 Naira daily from their illegal activities. In a country where citizens are left to cater for their needs and the high level of unemployment plaguing the youths, survival of the fittest has become the order of the day as more able bodied men are joining the illegal refineries gangs scattered around the creeks of Port Harcourt and its environs. Some of them are oblivious of the health hazards they are exposing themselves and family to but an increasing number of them especially the graduates from tertiary institutions who are also involved know the devastating health effect of the soot but they have decided to go ahead saying either they die from poverty or they die from soot inhalation. They have picked the later option.
The #stopthesoot Protest held on Thursday 19 April 2018 and the turnout was impressive! Mothers were present visibly angry that this dangerous hazard has been left to slowly poison our kids. Fathers were very upset. They are tired of paying hospital bills for sick children and they wanted a stop to this soot menace. The walk started from Isaac Boro Park Mile1 and the procession went straight to the government house where we demanded answers. We also went to the Department of Petroleum Resources(DPR) who are basically in charge of the pipeline and products that are regularly vandalized by the illegal refinery operator to get the raw crude. We also went to the House of Assembly on Moscow Road Port Harcourt. In all these places visited, a representative was sent out to speak with us. They stated that all hands are on deck to see how the soot pollution can be stopped. But can the Government totally put an end to this illegal refineries which is a multi billion naira industry? Even legal organizations such as the banks and telecommunications industries patronize these illegal traders. Our refineries are not meeting up to the demands of diesel in the country as there is a high demand for it. Moreover it’s even cheaper when you buy from the illegal refinery operators
As residents we have drawn the attention of the world to our plight here in Rivers state and we are hopeful that the federal and state government will work together to take immediate action to curb the soot pollution; and provide us with a livable, breathable, clean Port Harcourt and restore its glory once again as the beautiful garden city. It is so important to know that the activities of humans is surely having a seriously negative effect on our health and our environment.
We should therefore protect our environment in anyway that we can because it is the only environment that we have.