The ongoing war against the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-East, no doubt had taken its toll on humans and the environment of the area.

Apart from lives lost since 2009 when the insurgency began, the environment in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa states, the epicentre of the conflict were greatly devastated.

Parts of Gombe and Bauchi states were also negatively impacted.

Unarguably, both sides – the military and the insurgents are exploiting the environment in the conflict in an effort to gain the upper hand.

But there is hope that the six-year-old crisis may soon come to an end with the renewed commitment of the present administration in tackling the insurgency.

However, environmentalists insist that every plan to end the insurgency and reconstruct damaged infrastructure, rehabilitate and resettle the Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) must include remediation of the environment.

Even the UN recognised that, as the United Nations General Assembly in 2001 declared Nov. 6 of every year as the International Day for Preventing the Exploitation of the Environment in War and Armed Conflict.

The world body had noted that mankind had always counted its war casualties in terms of the dead and wounded, destroyed cities and livelihoods, while the environment had often remained the unpublicised victim of war.

“Water wells have been polluted, crops torched, forests cut down, soils poisoned, and animals killed to gain military advantage,” it noted.

Environmentalists and other stakeholders want the federal and state governments to take decisive steps to address degradation in the North-East.

Prof. Daniel Gwary of the Department of Crop Protection, University of Maiduguri, said that each party in the conflict directly or indirectly exploited environmental resources in the area to subsidise the cost of their operations.

Gwary said that the insurgency by the Boko Haram sect and fighting them by the Nigerian military on behalf of Nigeria required huge financial resources.

According to him, the resources include deforestation to provide fuel wood energy for heating, lighting and cooking, as well as for shelter/tent making, livestock and other biodiversity for food, water for drinking and sanitation.

“Natural resources of the environment including water, soil, wildlife and plants are considered the wealth of the rural poor people.

“It is often regarded as the bank account of the rural poor, because food, wears, shelter, energy and water for sustaining livelihoods are all obtained from the environment.

“Destroying or damaging the environment by any means including armed conflicts such as the insurgency being witnessed for six years now in the North East has the potential of increasing poverty, disease, and forced migration and loss of traditional heritage and consequently undermining peace and development.

“The conflict has caused extensive destruction and degradation of the environment,’’ he said.

Mr Atayi Babs, the National Coordinator, Climate and Sustainable Development Network of Nigeria, an NGO, said the environment in the North-East had suffered worse fate when compared with human beings in the armed conflict.

According to Babs, the environment has always been the silent casualty of war and armed conflict.

Babs listed some of the environmental problems in the North-East as “habitat degradation, reduced access to water points and other vital resources, species loss, alteration of the natural food chain, and additional pressure on biodiversity.’’

In the same vein, Prof. Nwajiuba Chinedum, the Executive Director, Nigerian Environmental Study Team, Ibadan, said that the environment in the North-East had been adversely affected as a result of the conflict.

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According to him, this is typical of area which suffers armed conflict.

“The effect of heavy equipment on the soil, water, air, and on vegetative cover is not usually a positive one; the same applies to bombing, other armaments, movements of troops and equipment.

“In addition, displaced people and those at risk of war do not have the privilege of tending to crops and livestock, while fighters may also kill livestock for various reasons,’’ he said.

Mr Nnimmo Bassey, the Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), an NGO, said that no doubt, warfare was never environment friendly, adding that armed conflicts do severe damage to the ecosystem.

According to the environmentalist, it is as if combatants in conflict see nature as their adversary.

“Nature provides food as well as shelter or shields for combatants.

“We saw the use of chemical weapons in the Vietnamese war – where Agent Orange, a defoliant, was used to kill trees so that no one could hide in the forests of Vietnam.

“In that case, the trees were not only killed, civilian populations were impacted and some suffer from the effects of the chemicals to this day.

“In the North-East everyone now knows that insurgents have used parts of Sambisa forest as their camps or hideouts.’

The insurgents had been agents of deforestation, displacing animals or killing them in the process, Bassey added.

He said the attempt of the military to dislodge the insurgents from the Sambisa forest could also result in bulldozing the forest, though they had not clearly stated this.

Bassey said that with the end of the conflict in sight, there was urgent need for the full environmental remediation in the zone.

“It is not enough to rebuild villages and towns without cleaning up their environment.

“The fact that most of our people carry out their daily activities outdoors make the clean-up of the environment very urgent.

“Apart from clearing the area of military wastes, there is the need to ensure that there are no land mines; such weapons do not distinguish between humans and animals,’’ he said.

Gwary echoed the need for remediation, adding that the success of human living in any part of the world depends largely on the quality of the environment.

“When the immediate rehabilitation efforts for the victims of the insurgency reach a reasonable stage, it will definitely be necessary to turn to the rehabilitation of the physical environment.

Speaking through the Deputy Director, Press, Mr Benjamin Gong, the then Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Mrs Nana Mede, said the destruction of the environment was always a common feature in war and armed conflict.

She alleged that the insurgents poisoned some water sources in the area and also added to the problem of desertification in the North-East.

On what the ministry would do to remediate the environment after the conflict, she said: “For us in the Ministry of Environment, we have specific responsibility to take care of the livelihood aspect of the Lake Chad,’’ nay, the entire North-East zone.

She assured that in 2016, many boreholes would be sunk in the area in order to provide potable water for the people.