Lagos-based Community and Environmental Safety Advocate, Juliet Chijioke-Churuba has lamented the debilitating effects of the growing practice of illegal refining in the country.
Chijioke-Churuba, who expressed this in a statement made available to the press, disclosed that myriad of factors, often arising from economic hardships and a lack of access to legal fuel sources are responsible for the surge in the untoward act.
According to her, its impact is felt most acutely in the Niger Delta region in Nigeria, where it has fostered conflict, violence, and environmental devastation for decades.
Making reference to a study by the World Health Organization (WHO), she said, air pollution from illegal refining in the Niger Delta is responsible for a 15% increase in respiratory diseases in nearby communities.
She added: “Water contamination is another grim consequence. Illegal refining operations are often located near rivers and creeks, leading to oil spills and leaks that poison aquatic ecosystems.
A report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) states that over 240,000 barrels of oil are spilled into the Niger Delta’s waters annually due to illegal refining activities, devastating marine life and fisheries.” She said.
Chijioke-Churuba added that the damage extends to the land as well. Makeshift refineries, constructed with little regard to safety or environmental regulations, contribute to soil erosion and deforestation.
She bemoaned the negative impacts of the practice on human health, stressing that residents living in the vicinity of illegal refining sites face a constant threat to their well-being.
She went further to reveal that the most ominous specter is the increased risk of cancer among those exposed to the carcinogens released during illegal refining.
” The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) reports that the cancer risk in communities near illegal refining sites is five times higher than in the general population.
“It’s essential therefore to remember that the workers involved in illegal refining activities are also vulnerable to these health hazards. Often lacking protective gear and operating in perilous conditions, they bear the brunt of the health risks associated with this illicit industry”, she stated.
According to Chijioke-Churuba, efforts to curb illegal refining face a complex regulatory landscape, even as she said, enforcing existing laws is a formidable challenge, given the remote and inaccessible locations where illegal refining activities often take place. She noted that the economic disparities in affected regions can make illegal refining an enticing source of income for impoverished communities.
As a way to mitigate these challenges, the expert posited that introducing new policies or reforms adds another layer of complexity to the regulatory dilemma.
“Striking a balance between deterring illegal refining and addressing the root causes, such as poverty and lack of access to legal fuel sources, requires careful consideration.”
Speaking on the way out of the illegal act, she said, improving access to legal and affordable fuel sources as well as, strengthening the enforcement and monitoring of environmental laws are crucial.
She advocated the need to provide alternative livelihoods and education for those involved in illegal refining can break the cycle of dependency on this illicit activity.
“Government should consider engagement in dialogue and negotiation with local communities and leaders are essential steps towards building trust and finding sustainable solutions.
In the fight against illegal refining, collaboration among all stakeholders–government agencies, environmental organizations, and local communities–is imperative.
Only through united efforts can we hope to mitigate the impact of illegal refining, protecting our environment and the well-being of affected communities for generations to come.