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FG, UNDP unfold COVID-19 environment sector recovery plan

By Chinedum Uwaegbulam
27 July 2020   |   3:16 am
Considering potential environmental challenges in the post-COVID-19 pandemic period, the Federal Ministry of Environment has released strategic activities and initiatives that will be implemented in the medium term towards sustainable development of the country’s environment sector.

Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar

Considering potential environmental challenges in the post-COVID-19 pandemic period, the Federal Ministry of Environment has released strategic activities and initiatives that will be implemented in the medium term towards sustainable development of the country’s environment sector.

Known as the “Post-COVID-19 Medium-Term Strategy Plan (2020-2022) for the Environment Sector”, the document was prepared by the Federal Ministry of Environment (FME), in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). It targets a clean, healthy and sustainable environment for the well-being and safety of the citizenry.

The document, released at a virtual session attended by the Environment Minister, Dr. Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, Environment Minister of State, Mrs. Sharon Ikeazor, and the UNDP Deputy Resident Representative for Programmes, Mr. Lealem Dinku, among others, places the ministry in a strategic position to respond effectively to challenges that may emerge after the initial environmental shocks created by the pandemic.

Essentially, the new strategy listed gaps in the present programmes such as biodiversity and biosafety, the non-development and implementation of comprehensive programmes for the valuation of biodiversity; inability to mainstream payments for ecosystem services (PES) and goods into the national budget.

In the flood and erosion, it noted that robust and scientific approaches to flood risk reduction such as flood modelling and vulnerability assessment are lacking as well as inadequate financing with respect to restoration of numerous gullies all over the country.

Similarly, under forestry, it points to the challenges as the inability to balance sustainable forest management and economic development; high level of poverty in the forest-dependent communities; declining productivity of forests that has resulted in a drastic reduction in number of forest entrepreneurs.

Others are the absence of system of environmental-economic accounting mechanism to quantify the socio-economic and environmental benefits of the intangible contribution of forest to the national economy.

Prof. Emmanuel Oladipo, who heads a team of experts who prepared the document, said the objective is to strengthen national institutions and initiatives to respond effectively to the future environmental challenges, within the overall context of advancing sustainable socio-economic development in the country.

The 68-page document presented key areas in the country’s environment sector that are likely to be mostly affected by COVID-19 pandemic, identified critical and impactful measures, initiatives and projects that will help the system adapt, cope, and mitigate the COVID-19 potential current and future impacts.

Areas examined are biodiversity and biosafety, climate change, drought and desertification, flood and erosion, forestry, oil spill and gas flare, pollution, and waste management.

Among the strategies to be adopted for chemicals and waste include engaging and building partnerships with other stakeholders, to improve the country’s capacity to manage chemicals and waste including biomedical and e-waste; strengthening regulatory and institutional capacities of relevant MDAs.

For climate change, the report recommended that the ministry work with partners, including the private sector, to support the implementation of low-emissions development strategies and build the resilience of the country to climate change, especially strengthening laws and regulations, and policies.

The strategies include strengthening the institutional capacity of governments (Federal, State and Local) and its development partners for effective national climate change response, improving the effectiveness of climate change governance and management.

Under ecosystem management, the government will to promote ecosystem-based approach (EBA) in the management of land, soil, water and biodiversity; facilitate the uptake of ecosystem-based approach, including the use of traditional ecological knowledge.

The ministry will support the following strategic initiatives: strengthen the enabling environment for ecosystem management, including transboundary ecosystems to help ensure the conservation and sustainable use of biodiversity.

The government will also support development planning to create the enabling environment for the implementation of biodiversity-related multilateral environmental agreements and increase the use of knowledge and science-policy interface for ecosystem management.

Besides, it will promote economic valuation and the use of data on ecosystem services in mainstreaming ecosystem services in development planning; build partnerships with the private sector and development partners to further strengthen the safeguard process.

In environmental health and biosafety, the ministry plans to incentivize private sector investment and development of appropriate water and sanitation technologies and infrastructure for waste management.

The environment ministry will work with the health counterpart and other relevant MDAs to develop or update a National Environmental Health Action Plan that will bring together environment, health and other governmental sectors on a common project, including effective response to pandemics.

It will also build strong partnerships with other relevant MDAs and the private sector to improve the environmental sanitation as well as build capacity of Environmental Health Professionals and other related personnel in areas of risk perception, environmental health impact assessment, public information, consultation, and participation, and other risk management techniques.

Earlier, the Minister of Environment, Dr. Mahmood Mohammad Abubakar said, the ministry in furtherance to the COVID-19 outbreak and its membership of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) has taken steps to enhance its participation in the containment of the pandemic in the country.

Abubakar said the challenge facing their work plan has been inadequate funding, delay in release of approved funds and payment for services, adding that the PTF COVID-19 document does not specify any role for the ministry in the management of COVID-19 health care waste, which is a core mandate of the ministry.

According to him, adequate and early release of funds are important in achieving set goals, Environmental Health and Sanitation response measures are central to COVID-19 containment. He also said that sustained advocacy; sensitization and awareness campaigns are crucial to containment of the pandemic.

He added that the ministry will continue with the decontamination/disinfection and disinfestation of schools; environmentally sound management and monitoring of COVID-19 health care wastes from isolation and treatment centres; Environmental Health Risk Assessment of isolation/treatment centres; improvement in the enforcement of relevant laws, guidelines and directives by Environmental Health Officers.

Speaking during the event, Mr. Dinku, said that the report timely. “It is about turning the recovery from Covid 19 into a real opportunity to do things right for the future. It provides a clear roadmap for action, taking into cognizance the cross connectivity between climate change, environmental sustainability and Covid 19.”

He said, the report would stimulate policy actions, engender further discussions, which will ultimately give birth to a new green economy for Nigeria. We believe that it is achievable, and that purposeful and visionary leadership is imperative for the type of bold steps that is critical for such a time as this.

“We at UNDP are incurable believers in Nigeria’s abilities to lead the world greening of its recovery plan. Nigeria did it before with the issuance of the first green bonds in Africa and can surely do it again.”

Dinku said the pandemic offers valuable opportunity to rethink and alter our current economic trajectory away from overdependence on fossil fuels, towards green growth. One that prioritizes investment in creation green jobs, investment in climate smart agriculture, deployment of affordable renewable energy solutions and nature-based solutions.”

He called for urgent action, on behalf of future generations, to ensure that: public funds are invested in the future, not the past, and that these funds flow to sustainable sectors and projects that help the environment and the climate.

The action, Dinku stressed should ensure that polluters must start paying for their pollution, incorporate climate risks and opportunities into the financial system as well as all aspects of public policy making, budgeting and infrastructure, and enshrine the Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC) targets into the very core of Nigeria’s medium to long-term economic growth and development plans.