Beating a just path forward

In a discourse such as this it may be tempting to throw up one's hands in despair that it is too late and there is nothing that one can do to turn the tide. This must not be the case. Actions at the grassroots level have sought ways to beat a path to the sustainable use of resources in the Niger Delta and elsewhere. The major plank used by groups such as Environmental Rights Action (ERA) - the Nigerian chapter of Friends of the Earth International - has been that of community education. ERA believes that creation of wealth without knowledge and popular participation cannot lead to sustainable development.6

ERA has pursued this through efforts to democratize development while protecting the environment from wanton destruction. Practically, this is done through community education on environmental and human rights monitoring,7 as well as training on the use of legal tools for securing rights and taking steps to defend their environment. Environmental education includes environmental health information and training. ERA uses resources such as A Community Guide to Environmental Health by the Hesperian Foundation and the Community Environmental Monitoring Handbook by the Akwa Ibom Research and Information Organization. Environmental monitoring is a key tool that helps to keep harmful activities and events in the public view, thus forcing responses from otherwise impervious polluters.

A clean-up of the highly polluted oil and gas fields will help to assuage hurt nerves and also make it possible for local people to regain their means of livelihoods - tightly linked to available environmental resources. A 1997 report by the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) estimated that cleaning up the Niger Delta environment would cost up to UKĀ£4 billion (Okonta and Oronto, 2001, p272). The oil corporations are estimated to have pumped out oil worth over US$350 billion since operations started in the region. It is our considered estimate that this total sum will be needed just to begin an auditing of the degradation and commencement of efforts to restore the wrecked physical environment of the Niger Delta, without even considering damage to the political, spiritual and social spheres. But it would be a good start. And time is running out.

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