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Air Pollution In Port Harcourt city, Nigeria. Photo Courtesy; CNN

Science has taught us that some unexplainable health crises experienced particularly in degraded environments can be attributed to the polluted air that we take in every second and every minute. This was a fact that did not go unnoticed at this year’s 2022 International Clean Air Day celebrated every 7th of September. I was invited to deliver a keynote address by MEGA IMPACT FOUNDATION as they marked the day at the Nelson Mandela Gardens situated inside Asaba International Airport, Delta State. It was an open-air event amongst corridors of trees, birds, parrots and other animals. What was clear to all the participants at the event was the clean air environment that made the garden very welcoming.

For instance, in most areas of Nigeria, the life expectancy is somewhere between 50 and 60 years whereas, in some communities that are well managed environmentally, people live to be between 80 and 90 years old. When they die before 70, the community goes for some consultations to find out why except the death is by accident or murder.

In my community, 99% of the inhabitants are farmers and they build their houses between trees and shrubs and respect for nature is paramount.

In my keynote address, I talked about the three most important components of life:

  • The Food that we eat
  • The Water that we drink
  • And the Air that we drink.

But the most intriguing thing about them is the Air because, with food, you see and taste before you eat. If you don’t like the taste of it, you can do without it.  The water we drink, even though water should be colourless, sometimes you drink with a bit of colour in it or you can have it treated or go without water for some time. In some places, you can go to the river, dig a well, or a borehole or even harvest some rainwater that is not acidic. Even with acid and ions, water can be treated. But in the unlikely event that you eat food that is not so good or drink water that is not so clean, you can be treated medically. With air, you don’t have these luxuries.

During my expedition across the Sahara driving from London to Nigeria, I had an encounter with my water when it changed colour. I was over a thousand miles from civilization, with no hamlets and nobody to talk to for days. So when my water changed colour, I found myself talking to the water about why it changed from colourless to brownish. I did take the water that way with its very bad taste because I was dehydrated, my throat and mouth completely dried up and so I had no choice but I was treated subsequently when I got into some civilization.

But the AIR that we breathe, we do not see, we do not touch, it has no colour because you can’t see it and it is the same air that is taken every second, every minute by the big and small, poor and rich, cannot be bought because you do not buy what you cannot see and it is the same air that is available everywhere in the world and only in Planet Earth.

It made the venue for the event even more special as one could feel how clean the air is. The organizers, Mega Impact Foundation in Partnership with Urban Movement Innovation Fund UK marked the 2022 International Clean Air Day in two phases with the theme “Pedal to Cleaner Air.” The two-phasedproject was designed to establish and maximize synergies between the Government, relevant Stakeholders and the general public in the hope of commencing a mind re-engineering process that will ensure implementation of the nations-set agenda in committing to UN’s set policies of achieving cleaner air and healthier environment by 2030.

The first phase was the breakfast and clean air conversationat Nelson Mandela Gardens that brought together major stakeholders to develop solutions and a roadmap to integrate climate change actions to complementthe Delta State Government’s efforts at implementing emission reduction, structural and systematic human behavioural changes in the hope of achieving its sustainable Development Goal of creating a Greener Delta State by 2030.

The Second Day of the project was a cycling roadshow in partnership with the Delta State Cycling Association, the event was hosted in Agbor, Delta State. It is first of its kind advocacy on propagating the multi-faceted benefits of riding bicycles. Cyclers from the Association and organizers of the event took to the roads amidst fun fare across the major streets of Agbor starting from the Stadium sensitizing people on the reason why they need to embrace the act of riding a bicycle.

I was unable to attend the second-day event at Agbor but I participated in my own way by riding my bicycle around my hometown. At 84, riding is still one of the activities I immensely enjoy and often employ it to move around short distances instead of driving my car. The air is better for it.

In the last few weeks, my community have been agog with cleansing the body and soul in preparation for the end of the Lunar year which usually begins the preparation for the New Yam Festival which is the mainstay of the community. They have spent the whole year preparing the grounds, nurturing the plants waiting for the rains and planting and at this time of harvest, the body and soul must be prepared to give thanks to the Creator and nature for bringing about a good or bad harvest. When the harvest is good, so much thanks is given but when the harvest is not so good, thanks are also given but with prayers for the following year to be better and in doing so, we must keep to the practice of maintaining and nurturing the environment and the land for continuous production of clean and healthy air.

Clear skies and clean air must become the new normal.We’ve got to pause and ask ourselves: How much clean air do we need?

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