BY AGNES NWORIE, ABAKALIKI
An environmental expert, Kelechukwu Okezie, has raised concerns over the continuous forest degradation and land grabbing menace in the South East, warning that the region may experience landslide, flooding, food crisis and higher level of poverty if the trend is not checked.
Okezie, the Director of a non-governmental organisation, Neighborhood Environment Watch Foundation, said the depletion of natural forests would cause serious environmental impacts.
In an interview with The Point in Abakaliki, Ebonyi State capital, Okezie said the state and local governments in the South East region were culpable in the destructive activities and urged them to desist and also enforce existing laws and regulations relating to land use, forest protection and indigenous rights.
He opined that strengthening legislation, establishing protected areas, and ensuring proper monitoring and enforcement mechanisms were vital in curbing land grabbing and forest degradation, stressing, “It is heart breaking that the South East governments that should be in the frontline of environmental protection and forest conservation are the ones destroying the existing forests in their states in the pretext of development and unsustainable
The Executive Director disclosed that his organisation, in partnership with the Women Environmental Program (WEP), frowned against the negative environmental activities, stressing that urgent and ambitious climate action, protection and preservation of forests were needed for sustenance of human lives in the region.
He said, “Deforestation is not only causing climate change, but climate change is also contributing to further deforestation and forest degradation, setting in motion a vicious cycle with devastating effects. Despite global commitments to fighting climate change and saving the world’s forests, deforestation and forest degradation continue to take place at alarming rates.
“Over the past years, the South East region of Nigeria has witnessed an alarming increase in land grabbing activities, leading to widespread deforestation and the loss of critical
ecosystems. Forests, which are essential for biodiversity, climate regulation, and providing livelihoods for local communities are being extensively cleared for agricultural expansion,
solid minerals extraction, logging, housing, and other unsustainable practices.”
Highlighting the possible dangers in the acts, Okezie noted, “There were 4,827 deforestation alerts reported in Nigeria between 9th of May 2023 and 16th of May 2023 and we are facing desert encroachment. The region today is prone to flooding, landslide and erosion, which are consequences of leaving the topsoil bare and without vegetation. We are faced with food insecurity and poverty despite the rich resources within our vegetation.
“Ebonyi State inherited 10 forest reserves and one game reserve at the inception of the state creation in 1996. Sadly, none of the 11 reserved areas retains its original vegetation /forestation due to unfavorable human activities. Can we investigate the health and fate of the forest reserves that we inherited from the former eastern state government? In Ebonyi State, we have Effium Forest Reserve, Uloanwu, Ohatekwe, Unuhu Agbaja, Nwode, Afikpo Fuel Wood, Okpoto, Unwana, Ovum Ozizza Forest Reserves, Akanto Game reserve, besides other indigenous community forests.
“As we all should know, when we interrupt, corrupt, or defile the potential functioning of ecological support system, we do injustice, not only to human beings, but also to all those bio-systems that are linked in one web of life. There is a need for political will to achieve sustainable environmental targets and tackle environmental degradation since the environment and all its natural resources are of public good, it means that everyone should protect the environment. We are all entitled to non-polluted air, a stable climate and rich biodiversity.”
“We firmly believe that immediate action must be taken to address this pressing issue and prevent further environmental degradation. Therefore, we call upon indigenous communities, civil society organisations, private sector, international community, South Eastern governments and other stakeholders to take decisive steps and declare a state of emergency on our forest reserves,” the expert said.