An environmentalist, Dr Kelechukwu Okezie has called on the governments of the South-East geopolitical zone to take action to stem the illicit land grabbing and forest degradation to save the environment.
The expert made the call at a press conference on Thursday in Abakaliki attended by key stakeholders including government officials, traditional rulers and members of civil society organisations (CSOs).
Okezie, the Executive Director of Neighbourhood Environment Watch Foundation (NEWF) argued that the state of the environment and the massive deforestation going on in all the states in the South-East zone called for concern.
He explained that there was a massive disappearance of forests including virgin and government forests reserves across the zone.
According to him, NEWF has been working in partnership with the Women Environmental Programme (WEP) to address issues of land grabbing and forest degradation in the south-East.
He said that there was a need for urgent action through the strengthening of existing extant environmental laws to stem the tide of the current illicit activities on the environment.
“No doubt, urgent and ambitious climate action and the protection and preservation of forests are critical for sustaining all life on earth, including our own.
“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 fight climate change and save 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,” Okezie said.
The environmental expert noted that statistics from the Global Forest Watch, 2023 said that an estimated 4, 827 deforestation alert was reported in Nigeria between May 9, 2023, and May 16, 2023, covering a total of 59 hectares.
“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.
“Coming down to our state, Ebonyi inherited 10 forest reserves and one game reserve at the inception of the state in 1996.
“Sadly, none of the 11 reserve areas retains its original vegetation/ forestation due to unfavourable human activities,” he added.
He listed the affected forest reserves inherited by the state in 1996 including; Effium forest reserve, Uloanwu forest reserve, Ohatekwe forest and Unuhu Agbaja forest reserves.
Others are; Nwode forest, Afikpo Fuel wood forest, Okpoto forest, Unwana forest, Ovum Ozizza forest reserves and 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 a 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,” the expert added.