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CLIMATE CHANGE: From e-waste to roaming cows, Nigeria sits on kegs of environmental explosives

These generators pump high concentration of CO of up to a potentially dangerous threshold of 400ppm into the atmosphere as they burn fossil fuel...

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Cows contribute to climate as they burp and fart (Photo credit: Jonah Nwokpoku/Nigeria Today)

In July this year, a family of seven was found dead in their one-room apartment in a suburb of Nigeria's oil-producing southern state of Rivers.

A police investigation would later reveal that the family died as a result of fumes from their power generator.

This is not an isolated incident in Nigeria. Thousands of Nigerians have lost their lives in a similar fashion, highlighting the dangers posed by small generators owned by most households to make up of erratic public power supply.



Generator exhaust contains high levels of carbon monoxide (CO), a poisonous gas you cannot see or smell but can kill within minutes.

Despite the danger, its importation and use have continued unabated over the past two decades without any regulatory inhibitions.

Although it has invested no less than $50 billion on power infrastructure over the past two decades, Nigeria, according to a recent report by Rural Electrification Agency, REA spends about $14 billion every year importing, fuelling and maintaining generators.

Why Nigeria Should Be Worried

These generators pump high concentration of CO of up to a potentially dangerous threshold of 400ppm into the atmosphere as they burn fossil fuel, contributing at least 78% to Nigeria’s urban heat, while putting a cog in the wheel of Nigeria’s climate plans, according to recent reports.

Nigeria is a signatory to the Sustainable Development Goals, two of which include ensuring access to affordable, reliable and modern energy for all by 2030, and to take urgent action to combat climate change and its impact, and experts worry with the increasing dependence on generators, this target remains in jeopardy.

“The implications of this trend are that the health of most city dwellers will continue to deteriorate as they inhale CO emissions from their generators,” said environment activist, Jane Ohabunwa.

Also, Read China Turns To Africa To Offload Used Petrol Cars As It Continues Aggressive Push For Zero-Emission Vehicles

“The environment will also become uncomfortable with increased heat. As you may already have observed these days, even after it rains, the weather will remain hot. This is not unconnected with the CO we are pumping into the atmosphere.

“Unless a pragmatic step is taken to address this, things would only worsen as more households take to the use of generators,” she added.

A Giant Threatened By E-Waste

As far as the environment is concerned, the impacts of the generators may be a tip of the iceberg. Nigeria’s thirst for used electronics goods from Asia, North America and Europe may be the final nail on Nigeria’s environmental coffin.

An estimated $500 million worth of used electronics goods is imported into Nigeria annually, according to an importer, Ndubisi who spoke to Nigeria Today on Saturday at Odolowu, a popular used-items hub in Surulere, Lagos.



Imported used-refrigerators on display along Lawanson Road, Surulere, Lagos (Photo by Nigeria Today)

These used electronics include refrigerators, television sets, mobile phone accessories, desktops, laptops and other computer accessories. There are also bicycles, sound systems, DVD players, etc.

According to Ndubisi, the depot receives at least 25 forty-feet containers of used items every month, estimated at about $500,000.



A forty-feet container about to be offloaded at Odolowu (Photo by Nigeria Today)

E-waste is a global problem. In 2014, approximately 41.8 million tons of e-waste was generated worldwide, according to a UN report. The amount of worldwide e-waste generation was expected to hit a record high of 49.8 million tons in 2018, with an annual 4-5 per cent growth.

In the United States only, e-waste has become a huge market, as roughly 80 per cent of e-waste generated is exported to Asia. A significant chunk now heads to Africa after Asian nations adopted a more aggressive stance against dumping.



Used-bicycles just offloaded

In countries such as Nigeria, the rules are lax, and consumers are unmindful of impacts of e-waste on the environment.

But the dangers of e-waste need not be taken lightly.

Why E-Waste Should Worry Nigeria

According to reports by Mayermetals, computers and most electronics contain toxic materials such as lead, zinc, nickel, flame retardants, barium, and chromium. Specifically, with lead, if released into the environment can cause damage to human blood, kidneys, as well as central and peripheral nervous systems.

“When e-waste is warmed up, toxic chemicals are released into the air damaging the atmosphere. The damage to the atmosphere is one of the biggest environmental impacts of e-waste.

“More so, when electronic waste is thrown away in landfills, their toxic materials seep into groundwater, affecting both land and sea animals. This can also affect the health of the people,” noted the report.



Imported e-waste including generators (Photo by Nigeria Today)

“The e-waste is coming at a furious pace and it should get us worried. There must be realistic steps from the authorities to encourage recycling and create a system to dispose of them in landfills and incinerators. But first, the authorities need to find a way to stop the influx of e-waste into the country,” said Wilson Unhonba, an environment analyst.   

There is little evidence that suggests that any of the e-wastes imported into Nigeria is recycled. According to United Nations reports, only 16 per cent of total global e-waste generation in 2014 was recycled by government agencies and companies sanctioned by industry regulators. Currently, only 15-20 per cent of all e-waste is recycled.

In Strolls The Roaming Cows Burping Some Heat Into The Air

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization Corporate Statistical Database, FAOstat there are 19.5 million heads of livestock in Nigeria with the production about 380,000 metric tons of meat per year.

Cows in Nigeria have been a subject of debate over the past few years. The current debate is whether it should be left to continue to roam free or be restrained in ranches.

A recent attempt to build a settlement for herders to stem a pastoral crisis between farmers and herdsmen by the Nigeria government was abandoned after it was criticised.



Some cows strolling across the road (Image by Nigeria Today)

But as the argument continues, not much discussion has been started around the impacts of the roaming cattle on the climate.

According to a recent study by the University of California, cows contribute at least 6% to global warming as they fart and burp.

Many nations are considering alternatives to beef and experimenting with feed formula that reduces the methane pollution caused by cows.

But despite over 36 million cows and counting, the argument, for now, isn’t how to leverage technology to mitigate the impacts of climate change from the cows, but how to preserve the unity of Nigeria through the cows.

With the growing number of cows in the country and its growing impact on the environment, Nigeria may be forced to make a choice between its precious beef source and a liveable climate.


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