Several communities spread across four local government areas of Okpokwu, Ohimini, Otukpo and Ado in Southern Benue State now face acute water crisis and the danger of water poisoning and environmental degradation as a result of the pollution being caused to Okollo stream, and rivers Umabe, and Okpokwu, the people’s main source of water, by a strip coal mining going on at the upper region of Okollo stream in Effeche-Akpali in Ugbokolo Ward of the local government.
A strip coal exploration and exploitation is said to have been started in the area earlier in the year by a local mining firm.
Some inhabitants of the area who spoke to LEADERSHIP said it is all a nightmare they never could have imagined to experience, lamenting that the very few who could afford it but the sachet water, popularly called pure water, from nearby townships, while the majority now resort to trekking several kilometres to fetch water from very distant places.
Mr Emmanuel Okopi who described the situation said the water is so contaminated that drinking it portends a great health risk.
He said “At the height of the pollution at times, it becomes so bad and coloured to the extend that the water turns earthy and muddy so that no one can bathe in it, let alone using it to cook,” he said, adding that even aquatic lives, especially the fish which is also a major source of food to the villagers, are being destroyed.
Lamenting further, he said what is even is helping the people now is the rainy season as most people use containers to collect and store the rain water when it rains and use it for drinking, cooking, and even bathing.
He said following enlightenment campaigns done through town criers in the affected communities, residents now have basic knowledge of the health risks associated with the pollution.
According to Okopi, “The people have cried out at the top of their voices for help but it appears there is no relief in sight as the mining activities continue unabated without the provision of an alternative source of water to the affected communities, not even bore holes, and all efforts made to get the authorities at the local, state, and federal levels to intervene have yielded no result yet.”
He however noted that investigations into the matter have revealed that the company compensated and resettled some affected locals within the immediate site of the mining while some prominent indigenes of the communities being affected downstream, including a paramount traditional rurer, had gone behind and collected some undisclosed amount of money.
It is worthy of note that the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari is focused on diversifying the Nigerian economy which has been depending solely on oil for decades, but the emphasis has been on safe mining.
The Mines Enviromental Compliance (MEC) department of the Ministry of Mines and Steel Development (MMSD) was set up as the direct promoter and implementer of the “safer mining” campaign of the federal government, and retreats, workshops, and conferences have been organised in recent years on Mines Pollution Control (MPC) to enhance their efficiency in enforcing mining laws that will safeguard the environment in line with global best practices.
The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbano, while speaking at the 2nd International Conference on Lead Poisoning Associated with artisanal Mining in Nigeria, with Special Focus on Prevention in Abuja, called on miners in the country to comply with the regulations on safer mining to ensure safety of lives and environment.