Soil Erosion and Public Health in Nigeria

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23 November 2015

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Soil Erosion and Public Health in Nigeria


       Soil erosion and environmental degradation are some of the mainly severe public health and environmental problems affecting or facing human kind /society. Statics show that, human beings obtain 99.7 percent of their food from the land and the rest is obtained aquatic bodies such as oceans and other water ecosystems. However, each year more than 10 million hectares of crop land are lost through soil erosion and in turn this reduces the cropland that is available for human kind to produce his food. This loss of cropland has turned to be a serious problem as according to the world health organization, more than 3.6 billion human beings are affected by malnourishment globally (Showers, 2005). Generally, soil is being lost from land areas 10 to 40 times faster than the rate of soil renewal imperiling future human food security and environmental quality. This paper critically examines the impact of soil erosion towards public health in developing countries specifically Nigeria (Showers, 2005). Soil erosion is one of the key environmental degradation problems in the developing world. Despite the enormous existence of literature on causes, and impacts of soil erosion a concrete understanding of this complex problem is lacking in the developing countries. The analysis discusses the negative impacts of soil erosion towards the public health care (Cornell University, 2006).

       Loss of soil from the land surfaces through the process of soil erosion is spreading globally and negatively affects the production of almost all natural ecosystems as well as agricultural. Together with the escalating human population worldwide, soil erosion, energy and water availability, and loss of biodiversity are ranked as the prime environmental problems all over the world (Beinart, 2008). The change that is inflicted on the soil through human induced erosion over the years is significant and has in turn resulted in valuable land becoming unproductive and eventually it is abandoned. Soil erosion reduces soil quality and hence reducing soil productivity as well that of natural, agricultural and other elated ecosystems. Public health can be summarized as the art and science of avoiding disease as well prolonging and promoting life and health respectively. Soil erosion has been one of the major threats to public globally as its effects have threatened the health system in communities (African Development Foundation, 1994).

       Public Healthcare in NigeriaThe country’s national government is and has been responsible for the provision of effective health care upon its people. The Nigerian government is the one responsible for providing adequate health care to its people. Health care provision in Nigeria is a simultaneous duty done by the three tiers of administration in the country (Vanlauwe et al, 2005). Its structure is such in a way that, the Federal government’s role is limited to coordinating the dealings of the University Teaching Hospitals, Federal Medical Centers. On the other hand, the state management focuses its responsibility for managing various general hospitals, while the local government focuses on dispensaries. In addition, private providers of health care significantly contribute to health care delivery. Even though the spending on health in Nigeria has risen from Naira’s 12.48 million in 1970 to 120.98 million in 2010, health care structure remains ineffective and plays a key role in the poverty status of the country. Over the last two decades, Nigeria’s public health care system has deteriorated in large partly because of a lack of resources and a “brain drain” syndrome of Nigerian doctors as well as skilled health workers to other countries. This as well has been accelerated by the industrial processes which have seen the vast usage of the land, in addition to increased farming practices to cater for the food demand. This, however, has along with natural disasters such as soil erosion brought along a hitch in provision of effective public health care (Orisakwe et al, 2004).

Soil erosion

       This is a natural process that involves dislodgement and removal of soil particles from one place to the other. There are different factors that contribute to susceptibility of soil to erosion as well as the rate at which it occurs. There are different types of soil erosion such as water and wind erosion. In other terms, Soil erosion entails breaking down, detaching, transporting, and redistributing of soil constituents. This can be through numerous forces such as water, wind, or gravity. Globally soil erosion has been a thing of concern and interest, especially its impact on cropland. This is because of its impacts on crop productivity and soil quality as well as its off-site effects on water quality and quantity, air quality, and biological activity. Cropland includes cultivated and non-cultivated cropland.

       Soil Erosion in NigeriaNigeria is one of the African countries with high population, which is around over 170 million people with more than 400 ethnic groups. More than 80 % of Nigeria’s population rely entirely on farming for their upkeep and economic gains. Since the early 20th century, soil erosion in Nigeria has been earmarked as a key problem in the country, not only a threat to the agricultural sector, but as well as a threat to the public health through the process of environmental degradation. One of the major negative points to note is that, the current rate of soil erosion is higher than the rate of production. This has in turn threatened the current practices in agriculture. The high rate of soil erosion suggests that, agricultural practices are unsustainable under prevailing geological conditions. The process of accepting and managing these processes has significant long term repercussion for cropland sustainability, natural resource state and health, not forgetting the environmental quality (Berkhout et al, 2011).

       Soil erosion is a major problem which is confronting health and land resources in Nigeria. Previous researches in the country have indicated that, more than 70% of the country’s surface has been affected by different types of soil erosion and of different intensities. Despite the process being a natural process, human activities such as overgrazing and clearing of vegetation accelerates it. Degradation of land is the loss of topsoil and in turn reducing its productivity. Moreover, it leads to sedimentation of water bodies which increases suspended sediment concentration in streams, with consequent effects on ecosystem health (Iwegbue et al, 2012).

       Fig. 1.0 Gully Erosion Site at Urualla – Imo State, Nigeria (Agbenin, 2002)

       Impact of soil erosion on public health in NigeriaOne of the major concerns about soil erosion in SA is the pollution effects caused by the soil erosion. Soil erosion has greatly led to the loss of vegetation, leaving the land bare. This leads to accumulation of dust in the air. This in turn impacts air quality in the country and mostly the greatly affected regions such as Camperdown and Greytown districts. Soil erosion has been one of the catalysts of the deforestation process in Nigeria. Deforestation is the loss of trees which are essential in the support of human activity as well as protecting the environment. Deforestation makes people’s life harder as it destroys the habitats of numerous creatures and contributes to desertification. Poor air quality poses a public health to the Nigerian community as it leads to asthmatic problems as well as other airborne diseases. In summary, soil erosion leads to an increase the amount of dust carried by wind. Does this not only at as an air pollutant and an abrasive, but also carries along about more than 20 human infectious disease organisms such as tuberculosis and anthrax (Agbenin, 2002).

       Soil erosion leads to numerous soil contamination which also impacts on human health. Over the time, there has been a significant pollutant in the air as well as water, which contributes to poor health among the citizens. Through the process of soil erosion, the pollutants in the air and on the earth’s surface are washed into the water bodies through soil erosion. Industrialization on the other hand, has resulted in soil pollution with heavy metals which have posed a health problem to the Nigerian communities. Some of the harmful elements washed into water bodies include mercury, lead, arsenic, fluoride, Asbestos, cadmium, benzene and hazardous pesticides which all of them are chemicals of public concern. These ‘heavy metals’ are frequently washed into water bodies and in turn contaminating the fresh water consumed by people in Nigeria. Metals such as arsenic are termed as carcinogenic as well as causing bone marrow and blood diseases when taken for a long period of time. Asbestos on the other hand causes lung carcinoma, liver and kidney damage. Many of these elements have negatively impacted the provision of effective public health services (Salami et al, 2003).

       Mining has been one of the economic activities in Nigeria, however, this has not been for the benefit of the farming and environment protections as it had been a health risk to the community. When water erosion (which is the prominent agent of erosion in Nigeria) sweeps across the mining fields much of the minerals are swept into the water bodies. Some of the elements are toxic and a risk to human health. In addition, the gases released from the mining areas are carried as dust through wind erosion and in turn posing a health problem to the Nigerians especially the community living near the mining areas. For example, sulphur dioxide causes damage of the respiratory system. In addition, the sulphur compounds also affect visibility, reduction of sunlight, unpleasant smells, irritation and smarting in the eyes, nose and throat which is a health concern to the community around the mining areas (Salami et al, 2003).

       Acidity in the soil and water bodies has been a public health to the Nigerian community. Soil erosion leads to the accumulation of solid waste in water bodies. This has become a serious environmental problem facing Nigeria. The consequence of these solid wastes is pollution of water, land and air not forgetting to mention is hazardous to women’s health as well as their social well being. With the increased urbanization in the country as well as high population, the amount of solid waste being generated has greatly increased. At the moment, virtually all the major cities in Nigeria are faced with the menace of solid waste management. The wastes are in one way or another swept into rivers and other water bodies. Due to their daily involvement with farming and house chores, women are exposed to numerous communicable diseases such as typhoid, dysentery, cholera, yaw; malaria, yellow fever, and relapsing fever that affect women are associated with improper disposal of wastes (Oladapo et al, 2009).

       Soil erosion has drastically reduced land productivity, especially the southern parts of Nigeria. In addition, soil erosion has also led to essential nutrient depletion as a form of land degradation. This has brought along severe economic impact in Nigeria. Reduced land production has severely affected food production in the country. The result of this is a shortage of food in the communities. Reduced food production in the community has increased the impact of drought to the residents. With reduced food production, the community cannot be able to sustain their people and in turn when the dry season comes along, the communities are largely hit by drought. Over the last 30 years, soil erosion in Nigeria has rendered more that 32% of arable land unproductive, this has in turn led to severe food shortage as well as food related diseases such as kwashiorkor among the children in Nigerian farming communities (Sotona & Adesodun, 2014).

       Soil erosion on the other hand has contributed to flooding occurs throughout Nigeria in three main forms which are urban, river and coastal flooding. For example, urban flooding such as the Ogunpa disaster which claimed over 200 lives and damaged property worth millions of Naira in Ibadan, are common occurrences. Flooding and accumulation of waste product has as well posed a public health concern to the Nigerians, especially the communities living along rivers and coastal lines. About 60 % of the soil that is swept away by the erosion process ends up in rivers, lakes and streams. This makes waterways more prone to flooding as well as contamination from soil, pesticides and fertilizers which are harmful to human health not only in Nigeria but also globally. Soil erosion is believed to have severe and adverse effect on the developing countries economic stability. Nigeria is termed as a developing country and it has suffered economically as a result of soil erosion. Large sums of funds have been deployed in the fight against the menace and it’s especially the impact to the country’s health care system (Ehigiator & Anyata, 2011).

       The stubborn persistence of soil erosion in Nigeria as well as its threat to public health has raised numerous ethical questions recent times. Freeing humanity from health menace caused by soil erosion is a moral obligation that weighs on the Nigerian government more heavily as the capabilities and technology advance continues to be experienced. The world and Nigeria in particular, undoubtedly has the productive capacity to produce adequate quality health care and facilities not to mention their ability to control or prevent soil erosion and in turn eradicate health risks to the people. In recent years, rapid technology advances have led to better environmental management, however soil erosion management or prevention in Nigeria has not been fully achieved and in turn hindering good public health (Edosomwan, 2013).

       The value of enhancing the well being of the Nigerians, today almost all the nations recognizes the need to enhance the well being of its people. While charity necessary might be necessary to respond to pressing issues in the community, it can not, however, provide for long-term solutions such as the case of soil erosion menace. Long term reversal of such cases can only be achieved through providing the Nigerians with skills, capital, employment, education and opportunities. In addition, for sustainable agriculture and rural development to flourish, as well as a valuable rural infrastructure must be in place as well as policy that will promote effective farming methods as well as soil erosion prevention measures (Adedipe, 1992).

Measures to reduce negative effects of soil erosion in Nigeria

       The Nigerian government together with World Health Organization has embarked on education, strategy for the farmers on how to improve their farming practices as well as how to prevent soil erosion in their farms. Effective farming practices within the communities are estimated to reduce the extent of soil erosion by 40 %. This would in turn reduce the amount of harmful elements being swept through soil erosion into water bodies. Moreover, farmers are encouraged to plant trees to reduce the desertification process as well as arrest the deforestation process. For example, the World Bank has financed the rehabilitation of land in Enugu, a region with massive gullies caused by erosion in order to prevent loss of life and property (Adeniyi, 1986).

       The government has also embarked on landscaping and building of dykes in order to reduce the problem of flooding. The issue of uncontrolled floods from regions such as Osina and Akokwa has raised the concern of flood control. Residents of the Urualla community, for example, had themselves committed towards finding a lasting solution to the problem especially their financial contribution to the cost of the engineering design for the site and urged them to sustain the momentum. Through the arrest of soil erosion, the government has managed to somewhat control the menace of soil erosion and especially its negative effect to the health sector. The fight against the malaria epidemic in African countries has been a success which is one of diseases caused by flooding as a result of soil erosion. Lastly, the government and NGOs have embarked on educating the community members on healthy living such as ways to avoid water borne diseases. As well as providing adequate medical attention when needed (Ananda & Herath, 2003).


       Nigeria is subject to soil erosion, due to deprived farming practices, together with erodible soils. When considered across all land-use types, it is clear that soil degradation is perceived as more of a problem in Agulu-Nanka (Plate 1), Obioma, Nsuka, and less of a problem in Borno, Kaduna, Kano and Sokoto. This has in turn turned to be a massive public health menace to the community not only in Nigeria but globally as well. It is clear that the process of soil erosion has brought along complicated health problems. The measure has been implemented to reduce the menace of soil erosion and in turn minimize the negative impact on public health.

       Despite the dedicated collaborative efforts of both the concerned parties such as the Nigerian government, NGOs, donor agencies provide an effective and efficient health care delivery in the county, confronting problems renders these efforts much less than desired. Some of the problems include poor farming practices, poor waste disposal, deforestation, which is believed to be a catalyst to soil erosion, re-emergence of HIV/AIDS pandemic, poor quality care as well as irrational appointments of health workers has not done the sector any good. Lack of information on prevention of soil erosion as well as the weight of these problems, is further compounded by insufficient budget allocation, lack of strategic plan and prepare for epidemics/pandemics.


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