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Nutrition: South-East And South-South Endangered By Pollution

Malnutrition is widespread in the South-East and South-South zones of Nigeria. Observations are that malaria, anemia and other epidemics are prevalent in the provinces. As a result pregnant women, children and adults are affected to a momentous level. Not even the efforts by the Nutrition Society of Nigeria (NSN), the respected and official voice of nutrition in Nigeria, tailored towards sensitization campaigns, have the ugly occurrences stemmed.

Confirmation to this was made at an organised event to assess Nigeria's performance in the 'Scaling up Nutrition Movement' in Abuja. Briefing newsmen on May 21 2014, the Head of Nutrition, Federal Ministry of Health, Dr. Chris Isokpunwu disclosed that Nigeria has been graded second after India on the menu of countries with the most-terrible cases of malnourished children in the world of which South-East and South-South were among the regions with indices of the nuisance.

Without doubt, environmental issues in the Niger Delta region have taken an irredeemable level caused by multinational companies that are into crude oil exploration, gas flaring and environmental degradation. According to an account by the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, unsurprising 1.89 million barrels of petroleumwere leaked into the Niger Delta between 1976 and 1996 out of a total of 2.4 million barrels spilled in 4,835 happenings. Other factors prearranged as the causes of malnutrition in these areas were kidnapping and militancy, which had made the rural dwellers to migrate to the urban cities to a significant size, thereby downgrading agricultural activities, an action that has led to drastic shortage of food.

It was evident that a UNDP's account states that there have been a bunch of 6,817 oil drops between 1976 and 2001. This invariably showcases a failure of three million barrels of oil, of which more than 70% was not convalesced. Among this quantity of spills, 69% happened off-shore, a section was in marshlands and 6% spilled on land. The Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, puts the amount of petroleum thrown-overboard into the environment yearly, (especially in the South-East and South-South zones), at 2,300 cubic metres with an average of 300 individual spills yearly.

It was, however, revealed in another vein that at New Netim, a small community in the Odukpani district of Cross River State, a water-healing plant belonging to the Cross River State Water Board, was enfolded by darkness of chlorine gas on 5 July, 2007, leading to the death of three people. Investigation revealed that it was one resident Ufot James who confirmed the incident and added that a woman and two men were sent to their early graves in the incident while numerous others were hospitalized. Uma Echeghe, an official of the water board as at the time, did not sing a different song. He had said that the gas escaped from one of 24 chlorine cylinders being used to treat water at the water-pumping station following a sudden power failure.

Hear the source: 'But the official said only one death had been reported to the water board. Concerned about the safety of chlorine used in the treatment of water in the state was first raised in the capital, Calabar, in May when a similar gas-escape affected residential areas in the Ikon Inok and Ediba districts of the city but claimed no fatalities.' Following the May incident, Echeghe had said that authorities started chlorinating water at the plant at New Netim, which was not as profoundly peopled as Calabar city. He had added that new safety measures were put in place to thwart analogous accidents in the future. But on the contrary, such measure was found out to have died on the newspapers it was published.

Most of the farmlands in the South-East and South-South zones are no longer producing crops due to the unpardonable condition they have suffered as a result of crude oil pollution. The Ogoni people are seriously trouncing their wounds occasioned by indiscriminate oil spills. Ohaji/Egbema areas are suffering the same fate badly. Isiagu rock crush plants have kept the people of Ebonyi on their toes. Their sources of drinking water are contaminated. This makes the sensitization by some organizations on the importance of nutrition a perceived farfetched realization by the people of the geographical sectors. There has not been a remedy to these menaces, not even as the Nutrition Society of Nigeria had noted at a seminar in Lagos through its president, Ngozi Nnam, that nutrition is the bedrock of development.

There was thinking by the organization that malnutrition is not necessitated by poverty of the pocket alone, but, also, by poverty of nutritional awareness, insensitive and environmental chaos, because around the environments of those regarded as poor people, there are fruits that can give them the necessary nutrients that their bodies require, but most of them have been ruined by pollution. NSN had also said that it had partnered with many organizations among which was Unilerver, to take the nutrition education challenges that affect humanity across all the facets of human endeavours.

Scholars like Ukegbu Patricia Ogechi, Onimawo Ignatius Akhakhia, and Ukegbu Andrew Ugwunna apparently of the Department of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, Abia; and the Department of Community Medicine, Nnamdi Azikiwe University Teaching Hospital, took a study of the Nutritional Status and Energy Intake of Adolescents in Umuahia Urban, South-East, in 2007, they found out in their research that all were not well with the 190 plainly vigorous adolescent boys and girls aged 15-18 years with equal sex distribution, who were the participants subjected to anthropometric measurements viz: height, weight, arm circumference and skin-fold thickness and energy intake was determined from individual weighed inventory for three consecutive days including a week-end day; part of the food sample was subjected to chemical analysis.

According to the results: 'All measurements except BMI and arm circumference had significant differences (p<0.05). Approximately 50% girls and well over 70% boys failed to meet the recommended weight and height standards. Over 20% of the adolescents were thin (BMI<18.5kg/m2). The prevalence of overweight indicated that about 4% of boys and 2% of girls were at risk of becoming overweight. Similarly the prevalence of stunting was found to be 67.3% and 57.8% for boys and girls, respectively...

'The result shows that there was under nutrition among the adolescents though the extent was higher among adolescent boys than girls, body composition of the adolescents was equally low. Also protein intake was grossly inadequate in both sexes. Therefore there is a need for improvement in the nutritional status among these adolescents.'

The South-East and South-South continue to suffer all manner of deformities in the hands of oil and gas companies in their respective zones. The oil and gas companies see zero per cent gas flaring as a mirage, but, rather, are very interested in the quantity of product that will accrue from their onshore or offshore oil wells, with little care about the environmental brunt of burning associated gas from oil drilling sites, of which experts on environment say that the flaring of gas also constitutes a hazard to human health. They say that gas flaring contributes to the worldwide anthropogenic emissions of carbon dioxide.

'For example, oil refinery flare stacks may emit methane and other volatile organic compounds as well as sulphur dioxide and other sulphur compounds, and toxics all of which are known to exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems flaring at oil and gas production sites may emit methane, sulphur dioxide, aromatic hydrocarbons (benzene, toluene and xylenes), as well as carcinogens such as benzapyrene,' sources had said. The Centre for Igbo Arts and Culture, (CIAC) Abuja, in collaboration with Raw Materials research and Development Council (RMRDC), Abuja, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, (MOUA) Umudike, and National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI), Umudike, on 3rd and 4th May, 2012 took the world by the tempest to organize a two-day seminar at the Zodiac Hotels Limited, Enugu. According to the organizers of the seminar, it was aimed to:

Create necessary awareness on the nutritional and health values of South-East indigenous food plants, draw attention to the real danger of allowing gradual extinction of many of these species in the South-East Ecological Zone of Nigeria, explore strategies for enhancing the species revival and propagation, unveil the secret on longevity embedded in indigenous foods consumption and utilization, and highlight the socio-cultural and economic importance of these foods among the people. It was observed that participants for the seminar were drawn from State Governments, Federal and State Ministries of Agriculture and Forestry, Environment, Science and Technology, Information, Women, Youth, Arts and Culture, National Orientation, Tourism, Women and Youth Organizations. Also accommodated were representatives Institutions, Tertiary of NGOs and Co-operative Societies, School students, associations of Small and Medium Enterprises, Corporate organizations and interested individuals.

The sole aim of the organization was to enhance the revival, propagation and utilization of the zone's disappearing food and medicinal plants for Healthy Living. It was visible that why the South-East and South-South are suffering untold malnutrition is because of the government and multinationals crude oil exploration activities which do not respect the importance of farmlands to agriculture for the recognition and protection of genetic diversity of food plants. In these times of deforestation and the nearly extinction of Iroko tree, pundits are, nonetheless, of the judgment that this giant tree has a potency of curing mouth boils, nausea, knee boil; wound healing and as an anti-elephantiasis whereas the roots when soaked in water and drank could relieve headache. But Iroko tree is in dearth!

The president of NSN, who is a Professor of Public Health Nutrition, University of Nigeria (UNN), knew the importance of nutrition and had said that a child that did not get enough nutrition in the first 1000 days is destroyed for life - academically and health-wise. Hence, many children are like this in the two geo-political precincts occasioned by pollution. When Cadbury Nigeria held a tour of the South-East regarded in many quarters as 'Importance of Nutrition' in August 2013, after it bagged the NSN endorsement, Dr. Chika Ndiokwelu, Head of Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital in Enugu, at a seminar in Umuahia, said: 'Proper nutrition also supports the United Nations 'Millennium Development Goals' which focuses on the eradication of poverty, hunger and malnutrition, as well as on improving maternal health and reducing child mortality.'

While many organizations in and out of the country have been making nutrition sensitization tours across the South-East and South-Southzones, government at all levels are not helping matter. In January 2004 the people of Rukpokwu in Rivers State experienced a devastating burst of oil pollution on their once fertile and arable farmland. Over four persons were killed in the area on 3 December 2003, when part of an oil pipeline exploded. On 5 July, the same fate befell Cross River State, when chlorine gas said was being used at a water treatment plant, escaped, killing over three persons. Exploration revealed that the South-East and South-South districts are having the negative influence of infection on child growth and high level of maternal mortality rate. The under-nutrition that the people of the zones have come to endure is causing such growth patterns and, they are on the verge of experiencing high level of the influence of more infections including urinary schistosomiasis, hookworm and S. haematobium.

Odimegwu Onwumere, a Poet/Writer, writes from Rivers State.

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Articles by Odimegwu Onwumere