Water Hyacinth: Pain in the neck of coastal communities, residents

Water-hyacienthNot long ago, a section of Ogun River, by Kara market, on the border of Lagos and Ogun States was blocked by compose; water hyacinth and dirt, resulting in panic across communities in the two states. Days after, Ogun State Government not only ordered that human activities on the thick hyacinth be stopped, it also moved to the site, to clear the compose through the engagement of a contractor.

But ironically, almost two months after the news hit the public space and government contractor moved to site, the compose had not been cleared.When The Guardian visited the scene, those contracted by the Ogun State Government to clear the shrubs were on site and working assiduously, but had not been able to clear a path for free flow of water. One of the workers who volunteered to comment under anonymity disclosed that they had been confronted with two major challenges, the thickness of hyacinth cum dirt and new composes flowing in, to building up with the ones yet to be cleared.

The logjam is not water hyacinth alone, meaning that bad human habits contributed and aggravated the disaster. This is because the marshy hyacinth is a combination of water hyacinth, disused pet bottles, nylons, cans and a host of other waste. Aside water hyacinth, which is natural, other elements constituting the compose are waste from human consumption.

The issue of substance floating on waterways is not limited to Ogun alone. Along the Lagos waterways, whether in Epe, Badagry, Ikorodu, Oworo, water hyacinth mixed with other substance float on water. It is also a peculiar issue in coastal communities of Ondo State, especially Ilaje, Ese-Odo, Okitipupa and Irele Local Government Areas, but worst hit among these local governments is Ilaje. Floating hyacinth annually blocks and locks up the water channels, not allowing these communities, under these local governments, whose livelihood, homes and businesses, revolves around water to move around.

The immediate and remote effects of the hyacinth range from difficulties in transiting on waterways and recurrent ecological disasters that often times lead to ocean surges in some of the riverine communities, rendering many homeless and displaced annually. 

Mr. Isaac Ikuyelori, a speedboat operator, ferrying people between Ugbonla and Ayetoro, told The Guardian that the menace of hyacinth is affecting the transportation system in the area and the livelihood of the people at large. Ikuyelori narrating his ordeals, said, “I ran into a heap of hyacinth not knowing there was a dangerous wood underneath. My propeller hit the wood and got spoilt. I spent a lot of money to repair the propeller, eating deep into my profit.”

Eniola Onuwaje, a transportat expert in Ugbo Kingdom, Ilaje LGA, confirmed the immense dangers, which weeds, hyacinth and other obstacles pose to the lives of the riverine people, especially during rainy season. 

Though the State Governor, Dr. Olusegun Mimiko inaugurated the Lakua Vanguard in October 2014 at Igbokoda, the headquarter of Ilaje Local Government Area, to bring succour to the people in the area of transportation, years after, the impact of that organisation is yet to be fully felt. 

Commenting on the activities of the Vanguard, Onuwaje stated that though Lakua Vanguard was created to address the issues around difficulties commuting on waterways, with the engagement of about 300 workers drafted from Ese-Odo and Ilaje council areas by Ondo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (OSOPADEC), “but how much can a workforce of 300 officers do?

“The large body of water in Ilaje alone, the number of vanguards on ground, cannot deliver effectively, let alone other waterways across the state,” Onuwaje noted.He described the Lakua Vanguard as a cosmetic approach to tackling the problem people living along the coastline. He therefore advocated for a mechanised means of clearing the hyacinth. 

Both, Ikuyelori and Onuwaje, faulted the operational mechanism of Lakua Vanguard, arguing that though the state government might have good intentions, but the agency is being subverted by the people saddled with the responsibilities of managing it. “Ninety percent of those enlisted as workers are not resident in the riverine communities,” they said. 

The Guardian gathered that the administration of late Dr. Olusegun Agagu purchased an Amphibex 400 Machine in 2007 to clear the waterways of hyacinth and other material, yet the equipment lies dormant, rusting in the premises of Ondo State Ministry of Transportation.

While investigating further on the equipment, the Business Manager of Proquip Nigeria Limited, the company that procured the machine from Canada, Samuel Osunde, said that the deployment of the machine is a far better option to engaging manual workforce. Osunde disclosed that the machine could dredge, clear water hyacinth, lay underground cables as well as clean oil spill.

Attempts to reach the Commissioner for Transport, Mr. Nicholas Tofowomo was not successful though his Press Officer, Mr. Christopher Akanbiemu, said the equipment has not been deployed for operational activities because the personnel to operate the machine needed to be trained abroad. Akanbiemu, however, assured that the ministry would send the appropriate personnel abroad for training, as soon as the contractor is ready. Providing insight on what the Lagos State Government is doing to clear the waterways of compose, the Managing Director of Lagos Waterways Authority (LASWA), Ms Abiola Kamson noted that the issue of water hyacinth on the state waterways is a recurrent issue.“It is something from nature that occurs annually and we are constantly working to combat it to ensure safe waterways.”

She disclosed that as part of efforts to ensure that water hyacinth are not on the waterways, last year alone, her agency engaged over 200 people within the communities in the different regions. She added, “What we did to properly attack the issue was to divide the waterways into various segments, so we have regions like Epe, Ikorodu, Badagry axis. We took each region individually and employed people to continuously clear out the water hyacinth.”She stated that the clearing is not something done just once or in a day, which was why LASWA engaged members of the local communities, who deployed basic tools to take out tons of hyacinths daily over a four-month period. She said this was done across the different regions she earlier mentioned.

Since the compose on water bodies are not just hyacinth but also dirt, what is LASWA doing to dissuade residents from seeing waterways as refuse dump? Kamson said that her agency is working closely with the Ministry of Environment to ensure that residents do not see the water bodies as a refuse dump, but a commercial resort that needs to be kept clean. According to her, in conjunction with the Lagos State Waste Management Agency (LAWMA), the agency would be conducting awareness campaign to educate people not to throw waste into the water bodies, because it has negative consequences for all residents.

“With that, we hope people would stop that action. And we implore Lagosians at large to work with us. Water hyacinth and other particles impede the free flow of ferries on the waterways,” she said

The LASWA boss revealed that two mechanised equipment that would clear the debris on waterways had been approved by the governor and would be deployed in September. She also talked about efforts to ensure that when the compose, especially hyacinth, is taken off the waterways, it does not pose a waste challenge. “One of the things we find out on my resumption was that once the water hyacinth has been cleared from the waterways, it then almost becomes a waste material, which add to the waste challenge in the state. And we are thinking of what other uses the water hyacinth could be put. We identified social impact companies to train people, especially women on how to utilize water hyacinth as a raw material for the creation of products like baskets. “So, our plan is to have an end-to-end solution. Thus, we see it as an opportunity to create jobs and make products from something that is a waste,” she added.

A Resource, Not Environmental Nuisance
AASSOCIATE Professor of Biochemical Toxicology at the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun, Adeyemi Olalekan told The Guardian that though water hyacinth is seen in many countries as a weed, responsible for many environmental problems, studies are however turning the problems around, including finding useful applications for the plant. He therefore maintained that the excessive growth of water hyacinth is not to be considered a threat to the environment, but a resource for the production of food for people, fodder for animals, raw materials for industries and energy for nations.

“Studies revealed that coastal plants like water hyacinth can perform a number of ecological functions, ranging from food production to coastal protection. With the evolutionary competitive edge that water hyacinth has over other plants, it is virtually impossible to fully eliminate. This fact has been proven by over 100 years of money spent on water hyacinth abatement. For this reason, it is better to adapt and use water hyacinth to meet the food, energy and coastal preservation needs of society in a beneficial way, rather than wasting resources in an effort to eliminate the plant, an effort that for the past century has been proven to be futile.”

According to Olalekan, water hyacinth can be used on the land, either, as a green manure or as compost, stating that as a green manure, it can be either ploughed into the ground or used as a mulch, as it is ideal for composting, an elegant solution to the problem of water hyacinth and poor soil quality. He further said that bio-fertilizer is acclaimed to be a sustainable source of plant nutrient due to its improvement of soil structure, as well as, the slow release of the nutrients.

“The biomass of water hyacinth can be used directly as green manure as compost. Also, the digested vegetative waste from biogas generation can be collected for use directly on the farm. Alternatively, these materials could be mixed with other organic materials before use. The practice is popular among farmers around the aquatic habitats where water hyacinth abounds. The waste products (slurry) coming from biogas production is collected regularly and used for growing maize, peanuts, soybean and cassava. The coarse powder obtained from the root of water hyacinth has effectively been used to aid crop production in economic crops such as vegetables. Because of the high moisture content of this plant, it was reported to increase the moisture holding capacity of the soil, while promoting good adhesion to seeds.”

Olalekan also said that, in Nigeria now, fish farmers allow controlled growth of water hyacinth in their ponds, to provide shade against the scorching effects of sunlight during the day and protection for young fish against predators.“Water hyacinth is used as a substrate for the deposition of eggs by spawning brood-stocks especially for the production of ornamental fish. The application of water hyacinth for wastewater treatment in Nigeria, is gradually gaining ground. Earlier studies reported its potentials as a mopping agent and scavenger of heavy and toxic elements in industrial and domestic effluents. The capacity of this plant to purify water rests on its ability to vigorously extract nutrients from its medium. Laboratory analysis has shown that water hyacinth is of a high absorptive capacity.

“Bio-gas technology requires large amount and continuous supply of vegetative materials for the production of methane, which can be used directly in homes for cooking and heating or converted to other sources of energy, such as electricity. The menace of aquatic weeds such as Water Hyacinth (E. crassipes) could be converted to an economic resource for the welfare of man. This process will go a long way in ameliorating the threat posed by the incursion of water hyacinth into our water bodies. Report had it that water hyacinth, can serve as raw material for pulp and paper, fibre for making chairs, mats and baskets. It can also be used as thatch.”

He also noted that the dearth of animal protein with increasing cost of food production coupled with rapid population growth necessitate the search for non-conventional sources of protein such as leaf protein concentrate (LPC) from water hyacinth. “The plant in combination with concentrate of other feeds has proved to be a good quality protein source for animal feed. In present time where natural resources are quickly depleting, it is in our interest to determine the possibility of using water hyacinth leaf protein concentrate for food production, food additives, pharmaceuticals and raw materials for agro-allied industries. In our laboratory, we have successfully extracted edible form of protein concentrate using an efficient and cost effective method. We have also converted the lignocellulosic biomass of water hyacinth to ethanol. To us, water hyacinth is not an environmental nuisance, but rather a natural resource.”

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