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27th International Day Of Actions For Rivers: Stakeholders Seek Legal Protection Of River Ethiope 



By  Dorathy Mbasen Uba

March 14 is observed annually as the International Day of Actions for Rivers. The day was established in 1997 by river experts from 20 different nations in Curitiba, Brazil as a global forum to promote the conservation, restoration and sustainable management of rivers.

The day emphasizes on the need to address issues such as pollution, habitat degradation and over-exploitation while encouraging the adoption of laws and policies that ensure the long-term health and vitality of rivers.

It aims to promote better preservation of these invaluable natural resources for present and future generations by inspiring positive change through education, advocacy and collective action.

The world commemorated the 27th International Day of Actions for Rivers on Thursday, 14 March, 2024 with the theme: “Water for All” with focus on water as essential for life and the need for safe and equitable water infrastructure for all communities.

The theme “Water for All” also draws attention to the significance of protecting rivers with calls for recognising them as national assets which is crucial for the well-being of entire populations. Consequently, this recognition goes with advocating for legal protections that prevent rivers from being polluted by sewage, industrial waste, or other contaminants.

To mark this year’s anniversary, River Ethiope Trust Foundation/Earth Law Centre USA/Foundation for Conservation of Nigerian Rivers in collaboration with the Delta State House of Assembly with support from GEF-SGP Nigeria, organized a one-day stakeholders capacity building workshop to raise awareness on the importance of rivers and advocate for protection of the rights of River Ethiope Basin.

The one-day capacity building workshop with the theme: “Understanding The Rights Of Nature For River Ethiope Catchment Stakeholders: Towards Recognition Of River Ethiope As A Personhood With Legal Rights” was the first in Africa with Delta as the first State to mark the International Day of Actions for Rivers in Nigeria.

The inaugural event which was held at the Golden Tulip Hotel, Maryam Babangida Way, Asaba had relevant stakeholders such as educators, environmentalists, community leaders, law makers, scientists, Journalists, among others come together to celebrate the importance of rivers in sustaining ecosystems, biodiversity and human livelihoods.

In his opening remarks, Founder, River Ethiope Trust Foundation & Africa Regional Coordinator; Earth Law Centre USA Expert Member, Prince Irikefe V. Dafe while welcoming stakeholders to the event noted that their homeland (Delta State), which has been bonding and sustaining them as it would their offsprings in the future was in grave danger.

According to him, Delta environment is in danger, the homeland – the natural environment that Deltans love and depend upon is in danger and must be protected to secure a better future for all.

“We must protect our rivers and lands that sustain us. Human activities continue to threaten our environment. We are living in a way that destroy our environment. The degridation continues despite our efforts.

“Emissions continue to warm the atmosphere, causing global warming and disrupting the climate. Storms intensify, wildfire and floods become more devastating. The air becomes more polluted, the ocean acidifies, and half the species alive today are now in danger of extinction.”

Prince Irikefe V. Dafe attributed the blame for this catastrophic change on human activities, stressing that the devastation was worldwide and with the increasing heat, the fresh water, upon which all life depends dwindles as snows are decreasing, glaciers are melting, soils are drying out and sea levels are rising; while rivers/lakes shrink and dry up.

He said Nigeria was also at risk due to deforestation which has led to the drying of land in the north, causing the desert to expand southward, while pollution is poisoning the waters in the south especially rivers which used to flow clear but are now fouled with industrial pollution.

The Rights of Nature convener acknowledged the need to give rights to nature and rivers on account that a lot of eco benefits are derived from the river including River Ethiope; while calling on stakeholders to rise to task and protect the homeland as they protect their human mothers, particularly the rivers which provide the fresh water that is the life blood of the community of living things.

Introducing the workshop, Dr. Elias E. Elemike, Director, Center for Sustainable Development FUPRE, said the purpose of the workshop was to create awareness on the Rights of Nature and to raise voices to conserve rivers and work towards sustainable development so as to avoid compromising the future of the coming generations.

He said the rights of nature which is not a legal entity is required to be enforced by all stakeholders and urged them to advocate for the protection of River Ethiope.

Several goodwill messages were delivered by the various stakeholders including Grant Wilson, Executive Director, Earth Law Center USA, HRM the Ovie of Great Idjerhe Kingdom, Commissioners, MD, River Basins, Chairman, NUJ, GEF-SGP Nigeria, Rep. of LGAs Catchment Chairmen, MD, PRESCO, FMEnv State Controller among others.

Speaking, Grant Wilson, the Executive Director, Earth Law Center USA while pledging his support said that they needed leaders from all over the world to work with the UN to give nature a voice; adding that he was excited with the collaboration to advocate for the rights of River Ethiope and other rivers.

Also speaking, the royal father of the day, HRM King Obukowho M.A Whiskey JP+ Ph.D. Udurhie 1, The Ovie of Great Idjerhe Kingdom, said if water is life, mechanisms must be put in place to protect it.

Unfortunately, pollution from dredging, and exploration have polluted the once clean river Ethiope. According to him, “Oil companies are dredging our environment, polluting the waters that we depend on. What have we done to protect the rivers?

His Royal Majesty, The Ovie of Great Idjerhe Kingdom also expressed gladness to contribute his voice to the advocacy, and urged the Delta State House of Assembly to come up with a legal framework that would protect the rivers.

The Honourable Commissioner for Water Resources, ably represented by Engr. Eric Emeyazia in his goodwill message commended the organizers for putting together what he described as a laudable programme; adding that the Ministry will explore areas of collaboration and contribute their efforts.

According to the Delta Commissioner of Culture and Tourism Dr. Darlington Nnamdi Ijeh, who was represented by the Director of Admin, Mr Ken Nwanbeze; if river Ethiope were to be in Israel, it would have been a source of tourism for the state. He said the ministry was doing much to ensure they encourage and promote development of the river, disclosing that the development of the river has already been approved and work will soon commence at the site.

Following, the Chairman, Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), Delta State Council has this to say; “I have been listening to the speakers and I have been trying to see how we can situate the relevance of our gathering here as humans and living orgnisms.

“The more devastating our activities on earth, the more we are making ourselves to be in danger of surviving here on earth. Talking about River Ethiope, Lake Chad is drying up because of the devastation of human activities.

“Saving river Ethiope demands the combination of legal, environmental and community based majors and as such, there is need for all stakeholders to come together to save our rivers particularly river Ethiope which is our benchmark and has about 1.7 billion inhabitants as beneficials. 

We need that synergy and I believe that as the Fourth Estate of the Realm, we will do our best to ensure that we create awareness and education for the public to see the need for River Ethiope to be better protected so that it can benefit humanity into future generations,” he stated.

Chairman of the Occasion, Prof. Rim-Rukeh Akpofure, VC, FUPRE in his keynote address charged participants to advocate for the protection of the Nigerian environment; and urged the Delta Assembly to enact or make a pronouncement or a bill for an Act to declare river Ethiope as a living entity/personhood.

On his part, the Special Guest of Honor, Rt Hon. Emomotimi Guwor, Speaker, Delta State House of Assembly been represented by the Deputy Speaker, Rt Hon. Arthur Akpowowo who was the Chief Host, thanked Prince Irikefe V. Dafe for his efforts towards the preservation of River Ethiope and others rivers which have been the main source of livelihood for most communities across the state.

While declaring the workshop open, the Deputy Speaker also acknowledged the devastating state of the river Ethiope, adding that the House has accepted the responsibility and is already working on a possibility of having the first Bill on the Rights of Nature, and assured of the DTHA commitment in ensuring that the Rights of Nature Billl will be passed as soon as possible.

There were also paper presentations during the capacity building workshop on the Rights of Nature by the following resource persons _ the likes of Prince Irikefe V. Dafe Lead Earth Law Center, Africa; Dr. Elias Emeka Elemike _ Director, Center for Sustainable Development, FUPRE; and Dr. L.E Tudararo Director, IEDS – FUPRE.

Highligh of the event was the reading of the Draft Communique by the Director, Center for Sustainable Development, FUPRE Dr. Elias Emeka Elemike as well as the questions, answers and comments session which was followed by a photo session and press interview.

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