Conserving and restoring wetlands in Nigeria’s Niger River Delta

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Case study

The Niger Delta in Nigeria is the largest wetland in Africa and the third largest mangrove forest in the world. The region is known for its richness in biodiversity as well as its oil and gas resources. Wetland ecosystems play a critical role in supporting the livelihoods of millions of people. At the same time they are being degraded by unsustainable practices and a legacy of pollution and oil spills. We are putting the conservation and restoration of wetlands at the centre of achieving both livelihood and biodiversity improvements.

The Niger Delta is one of the largest wetlands in the world and currently has three sites listed as Ramsar Wetlands of International Importance. The region is home to nearly 30 million people, 60 percent depend directly on the services provided by the environment – such as fish and clean drinking water– for their well-being.

Challenges

Nigeria is the eighth largest oil exporter in the world. Development of the abundant oil and gas resources has created a host of environmental and social challenges. Wetlands degradation is a serious ongoing problem, caused by pollution from oil spills and gas flaring, the population influx attracted by the oil and gas industry, poverty, uncontrolled exploitation of the forest (wood), over-fishing, and various poorly planned infrastructure developments.

Historically, little of the oil revenue generated in the delta has made it back to be reinvested in local communities. The standard of living in Niger Delta communities is very low and basic requirements, such as access to clean water, health facilities and education, are lacking for most. In order to address some of these issues, there is an urgent need for sustainable development initiatives to integrate the livelihoods of local communities with ecosystem restoration.

Despite the significance of the Niger Delta as a wetland, environmental improvement programmes by the oil and gas sector have been lacking for a long time. A major shortcoming is the insufficient understanding of the value of wetlands and their importance to different stakeholders. Without an awareness of the links between wetlands and livelihoods, development initiatives that aim to tackle the challenges faced by communities may not be sustainable or successful.

Goals

Under our partnership with Shell, we are working to:

  • Demonstrate how the restoration of wetlands can be linked to improved livelihood opportunities in local communities. To achieve this, we studied the wetland types and mapped the ecosystem services at different locations in the delta to analyse their vulnerability to different activities;
  • Engage local communities to integrate wetland values into development plans, with ambitions to enhance ecosystems and sustain livelihoods through incentive systems such as Bio-rights;
  • Strengthen the capacity of local civil society partners to implement ecosystem-based restoration and expand the scope of the most successful projects;
  • Integrate wetland values into the government’s sustainable development planning;
  • Change the practices of the wider oil and gas sector in order to understand wetland values and protect, sustain and restore them.

While this work happens under our partnership with Shell, we are not directly involved in the clean-up of oil pollution, but include the oil industry as an important stakeholder for our new ways of planning development, and improving the condition of wetlands and water resources to benefit both biodiversity and human well-being.

Achievements

The Abobiri, Obia-yagha and Opume communities in the Niger Delta have changed the way they manage their wetland environment. 58 community member-groups provided with access to micro-credits have stopped wetland-detrimental livelihood practices (mainly mangrove cutting) and switched to wetland-friendly livelihood practices such as fish, periwinkle, plantation and poultry farming. In addition, they are contributing to wetland restoration through wetland tree nurseries and restoration, tree planting and clearing of waterways overgrown by invasive plant species.

Partners

Living Earth Nigeria Foundation
Nigeria Conservation Foundation
Shell