The Niger Delta, also known as Oil Rivers for once being the largest producer of palm oil, is undergoing catastrophic crisis of marine life and ecosystem because of oil spills. According to an estimate, there have been about 7000 oil spills in the delta between 1970 and 2000 alone.
The Niger Delta that spans over 70,000 km² and makes up 7.5% of Nigeria’s land mass consists of Bayelsa, Delta, and Rivers States. It was once a prime example of African beauty – Full of natural resources. But, unfortunately, today this area is suffering from ecological disaster. Due to its massive natural resources the Niger Delta region has passed through many struggling and insurgent phases. Since the colonial period it is suffering from warfare, lacks of development and militancy.
Geographically it can be divided into three regions. Western Niger Delta consists of Delta, Edo, and Ondo States. The populations of Wester Niger Delta is an amalgamation of several ethnic groups like Ijaw in majority and comparatively smaller ethnic groups of Urhobo, Ezon, Igbo, Isoko, Itsekiri, and Ukwuani. Fishing and vegetations are their main source of income. The society of Central Niger Delta contains Bayelsa and Rivers States. Ijaw , Okrika, and Andoni clans, the Ogoni and Igbo groups. The third division of the Niger Delta is Eastern Niger Delta having Akwa Ibom and Cross River States. The people of Eastern Niger Delta region belong to the Efik, Ibibio, Annang, Oron and Ogoja communities. The colonial domination in this region has resulted into the division of all these ethnic groups on the base of languages and beliefs. All of the population due to divide-and-conquer strategy is continuously in the phase of warfare for dwindling resources.
The extraction of mineral oil from Niger Delta is almost 2 million barrels per day and it is the backbone of Nigerian economy which comprises 75% of Nigerian export earnings. But it has also caused the severe environment degradation in this region which is no doubt an alarming issue of the day. Oil spills is one of the major cause of pollution in the Neger delta which is occurring due to corrosion of pipelines and tankers and inadequate or non-functional production equipment. On the other hand from the oil wells the emission of natural gas is immediately burned at a rate of 70 million m³per day which is 40% of total African natural gas consumption. This way the precious fuel is not only wasted but it is also the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions on earth.
The Niger Delta also possess one of the best ecosystem containing one of the highest concentrations of biodiversity on the planet. The flora and fauna includes wide variety of crops, lumber or agricultural trees, and more species of freshwater fish than any ecosystem in West Africa. The mangrove forests reserves are spread over an area of 8,580 km² of land which are significant for the indigenous population in this region. Due to massive petroleum activity these mangrove forests are diminishing rapidly which is equally dangerous for the lives of other plants and animals with humans. Mangrove forests are also the major source of wood for local people.
The Niger River is a home of nearly 250 species of fish, of which 20 are endemic, These 20 species of fish are found nowhere else on Earth. Climate change, habitat loss, and pollution are the main factors of making these rare fish species in endangered list. Water Hyacinth which was introduced in this area as a fragrant plant to absorb the pollution , it has also threatened the environment because it is continuously depleting the water of oxygen and thus caused the lives of marine species in danger.
To safeguard Niger Delta from the future contamination is the dire need of the day. The dense human population is suffered from many chronic diseases and unavailability of basic necessities of life like safe and clean drinking water. Although many welfare organizations are working to create environment awareness in the region but the situation can never be improved without the proper implementation of good strategies from the Nigerian government.