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Perspectives on desertification as a determinant of public health in Nigeria

Perspectives on desertification as a determinant of public health in Nigeria

Adetoun Mustapha
Nigerian Institute for Medical Research and Imperial College,London, England

Nigeria is one of the countries in West Africa that is suffering from the cumulative negative effects of population growth, anthropogenic activities, urbanisation, unsustainable water and land management and climate variability, resulting in rapid desertification. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), about 15% of Nigeria land is prone to desertification. The effect is pronounced in the northernmost part of Nigeria, which is the major producer of agricultural products and the food basket of the country. Climate dependent activities and agriculture provides income and employment for most of the population. Desertification is therefore threatening rural livelihoods and causing food insecurity, malnutrition in children, unemployment, forced migration and amplifying poverty and conflicts over access to land and resources

Land ownership and control is a delicate issue in Nigeria. There is no legal recognition of citizenship based on residency – migrants’ group are seen as settlers because they do not control land and are often alienated from their host community’s natural resources. After recurrent droughts in the Sahel region, pastoralists have gradually moved southwards where they reportedly graze cattle in farms triggering deadly conflicts with farmers. The herders and farmers clashes are threatening the unity of the country and promoting activities of regional militia. Studies have linked severity of desertification to exposure to heat waves and decrease host resistance to viruses such as influenza and parasites such as malaria; vector borne disease such as cholera, increased prevalence of skin malignancies, and loss of plants of medicinal importance in northern Nigeria

Nigeria is a party to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) and the Nigerian government is implementing several policies and programmes to combat desertification including the Great Green Wall project among others. The speed of implementation and adequacy of these as well as involvement of all relevant stakeholders have been subject of debate. The magnitude of environmental health risks posed by desertification in Nigeria has not been adequately quantified. For a country projected to become the world’s third most populous country by the year 2050, the public health implications of desertification need to be addressed. How this topic can become a priority in public health research agenda and ways various collaboration can support the attainment will be discussed.