It is a well-known fact that availability of adequate and quality water is crucial to human health. It has also been established that water is the second to air with regards to its importance in human lives. However, in the recent times, little or no attention is being paid to how it has been impacted by climate change particularly at the local level in most developing countries which Nigeria happens to be one.
Several researchers have disclosed that Nigeria is one of such developing countries that could be badly affected due to several environmental challenges such as desertification, flooding, shrinking water bodies among others, particularly in the northern region which houses two major water bodies- River Niger and dams like the Goronyo dam in Sokoto State which also serve as sources of hydro-power generating dams for our national grid. These water bodies are gradually dwindling due to effects of climate change, causing reduction in hydropower generation and the megawatts produced daily for average national energy consumption.
A critical assessment of the effects of climate change on these water bodies in the last couple of years prompted a recent decision by the Nigerian government to start considering the implementation of policy of generating 30% of its energy needs from coal energy – a water intensive activity with dire environmental consequences.
Although according to several reports on power generation, it has been said that Coal might be the cheapest source of electricity when compare the cost effectiveness with other sources of power. As a matter of fact, several industrialised and developed countries of the world such as China, Germany, USA, and Japan currently tap 70% of their power source from coal.
And Nigeria, a nation with abundance of coal deposit in West Africa, confronted with power supply challenges and yet to stabilize on 500 Megawatt since independence, switching to coal as alternative source of power should never be a bad idea. However, some critical questions remain unanswered by the policy makers.
Critical questions such as: Are policy makers mindful of the effects fossil fuel generation especially coal mining may have on the already shrinking water bodies in Nigeria?
Are there measures in place to safeguard the water bodies from these plausible effects?
Have they critically weighed these ecological impacts on a long term scale?
These questions and more from the experts are still begging for answers, if we are to prevent further water crisis in the near future in Nigeria.
Assessments of the impacts of Coal mining on ecology
Now let us look at these possible effects coal mining may generate together.
Coal, according to experts, is a fossil fuel that’s burned to generate electricity and heat, or liquefied to produce gas and diesel fuel. With this process, while valuable to human energy production, is nevertheless difficult, expensive and dangerous to obtain, with high costs to the environment and human health as well as water bodies.
Based on research, there are several other possible devastating effects of coal mining on environment- water and Land. One of which is Flooding.
Coal mining and preparation generates millions of gallons of highly toxic, semi-solid waste called “slurry.” To contain the slurry, dams are often built in between the mountains from where the coal is being mined. There are several documented instances in which slurry dams have failed, resulting in deadly floods and ensuing environmental disaster.
Another one is Water Pollution. Highly acidic runoff from coal stocks and handling facilities, known as acid mine drainage (AMD), infiltrates waterways, contaminating local water supply and affecting the PH balance in the surrounding lakes and streams.
Air Pollution through Coal dust is another major challenge. In addition to being dirty and unpleasant smelling, is dangerous if inhaled over an extensive period of time. People with prolonged exposure to coal dust are at high risk of contracting “Black lung disease,” which left untreated can lead to lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, and heart failure.
Coal mining could also lead to loss of wildlife as it requires a large expanse of territory. When a mining operation moves in, it invades and destroys sizable ranges of wilderness area, displacing the native fauna and removing habitat and food sources. This eventually results in an imbalanced ecosystem — and even the endangerment or extinction of entire species.
Essentially, it is imperative for the Nigerian government to conduct an extensive impact assessment before embarking on the implementation of this “Coal Energy”policy so as to not endanger the lives of the citizens. The recent declaration of state of emergency within the Water, Sanitation and Hygiene sector in Nigeria by President Buhari is also a pointer that appropriate and drastic measures needed to be put in place to “save our water” sources for national and economic benefits.
It is also important to take a cue from the aforementioned industrialised nations that have successfully switched to coal as energy source with less or mild effects on their immediate environment as they often have sustainable plans and structures to contain possible and unforeseeable downside which coal mining may have on both environment and human lives.