Group, Enugu youths demand clean-up of Iva Valley as acidic water put residents at risk of cancer disease

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    Eighteen years after the closure of Iva Valley Mine in Enugu North LGA of Enugu state, and other mines in the metropolis, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO),  and Iva Valley youths are leading a vigorous campaign to clean-up the contaminated farmlands, air and water in the area, writes MIKE UBANI

     Iva Valley, a once vibrant community in Enugu North Local Government Area of Enugu state, is in the news again.  About 71 years ago, the neighbourhood made headlines in both the print and electronic media across the world following the gruesome killings by British colonial police men of about 21 miners at the Iva Valley Coal mine located in the area.

    Also, no fewer than 51 coal miners were badly injured during the inexcusable shooting of the coal miners by the gun-toting colonial policemen for allegedly protesting against British colonial rule in Nigeria at that time.

    The Iva Valley Coal Mine was opened in 1917 by the British colonial government of Nigeria, after the Udi Mine in 1915, making it the second ever coal mine established in Enugu metropolis, nicknamed the Coal City.

    Given the fact that Nigerian coal is one of the best in the world because of its low sulphur content, especially the Enugu coal, and by extension, the Iva Valley coal, there was a groundswell of expectation that the presence of coal in Iva Valley community would attract socio-economic development to the area.  But that turned out to be a pipe dream.

    Today, besides the rickety coal staff quarters in the area, there is virtually no infrastructural development to show that the mineral resource exploited in Iva Valley community once contributed largely to the country’s revenue base.

    Sadly enough, the road leading from the New Market junction to Iva Valley remains a death-trap.  Also, potable water, electricity and mobile communication in the area, are as scare as dog’s tears.  The Iva Valley Primary School is akin to a cow-shed – the roofs of some of the classroom buildings having been blown off.

    Indeed, coal mining in Iva Valley has literally turned out to be a curse rather than a blessing to the residents.  In fact, the living conditions of the residents have worsened following the closure by the federal government of Iva Valley Coal mine and other mines in Enugu state in 2002.

    “The acidic water that flows from the abandoned coal mine has polluted our farmlands, and our source of drinking water,” bemoaned one youth from the area.

    Miss Chidinma Arum, 18, a resident of the area complained that their family house has developed several cracks due to many years of underground mining of coal in the area.

    This is not a figment of imagination.  Engr, Jubrin A. Sani, a retired senior staff of Nigerian Coal Corporation (NCC), attributed the cracks that had developed in several houses in the area to long years of coal mining.

    Against this backdrop, a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Lekeh Development Foundation (LEDEF), on August 6, 2020, organized a one-day ‘Youths Action Parliament’ consisting of youths from the area at Iva Valley Primary School to holistically ascertain the effects of coal mining and climate change in Iva Valley community.

    Addressing the youths, Mr. Nbani Friday Barilule, executive director, LEDEF, decried the environmental pollution of Iva Valley community, and the reluctance of the federal government to clean-up the area as it is currently being done in Ogoni, Rivers state, where the activities of Shell resulted to environmental degradation of Ogoniland.

    “The earth and the water we drink are endangered because we have lost respect for them.  We must today resolve to be friends of the earth and the environment.  We need to unite and demand for environmental justice.

    “We must seek for the remediation of Iva Valley and the neighbouring communities – where coal mining took place in the past…  Mining activity in the area exposed the residents to health hazards, but unfortunately the NCC and the federal government did not think about their welfare of the residents.”

    Prof. Dan Ugwu, of the Faculty of Agriculture, Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT),  and chairman, African Centre for Rural Development & Environment, urged the youths to take special interest in the campaign to compensate Iva Valley people for the damage the NCC did to farmlands, plants and water in the area.

     Elder (Dr) Okechukwu Job Uwaelelam, former president, Senior Staff Association, NCC, Enugu, who presented a paper titled “health implications of coal mining on human, food, land, water and air, said that though “coal brought much sought about revenue for the government and income to mine workers and the environs, so did it generate adverse effects on the biodiversity and the human population.”

    According to him, “the miners were exposed to poisonous metals like methane, silica, sulphate, iron and manganese,” adding that “long exposure to these harmful metals have been shown to cause pneumoconiosis, silicosis (lung disease), and neurological disorder.”
    He added that the “air pollution caused by coal dust – which in this case in not restricted to the miners, but extends to those living near the coal mines, can expose more people to lung disease.”

    Dr. Uwaelelam agonized over the abandonment of coal mines in Enugu, including the mine at Iva Valley, saying that acidic water that flows from those mines has polluted farmlands and sources of water supply in the area and some parts of Enugu metropolis.

    “Acidity of water around Enugu mine areas and environs is higher than what is recommended by World Health Organisation (WHO) because of a low PH (potential of hydrogen) level.

     “High iron concentration owing to acid mine deposit poses harmful effecst on humans, animals, aquatic and agricultural life and also reduces the suitability of water for domestic purposes.

    “Exploration and exploitation of coal has led to health hazards, loss of biodiversity, loss of landscape and degradation of the environment,” he said.

    He suggested that a good policy framework that would ensure compensation of coal miners, and residents who suffered due to coal mining in their area should be put in place.

    Mr. Uchenna Okafor, of the Department of Geography, University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), who spoke on the effects of coal mining on women of Iva Valley, especially those engaged in farming, was emphatic that acidic water that flows into the farmlands is detrimental to the health of women.

    “Many of the women involved in agriculture and who consume bitter leaf and vegetables washed with polluted coal water stand the risk of suffering from vaginal cancer, and other kinds of cancer.

    Mr. Nnamdi Ben, who spoke on the role of youths in protecting their environment, urged them to come together and demand for their rights going by the despoliation of their environment due to coal mining in the area.

     The youths who chanted several slogans such as “Iva Valley United, can never be defeated,” thanked the organizers of the event for empathizing with their plight, and resolved to carrying the campaign for the cleaning-up of their environment to the doorsteps of the federal and state governments.

    In a five-point communiqué issued at the end of the event,  urged the federal government to come up with an Environmental Impact Assessment Statement that would show a complete picture  of  the effects of coal mining in Iva Valley community.

    According to the communiqué, the federal government should compensate residents who houses have developed some cracks following long years of coal mining in the community.

    The youths also urged both the state and federal government to provide the community with clean water since their sources of water supply have been polluted by acid water that flows from the abandoned coal mine.

    Additionally, the youths demanded for the provision of livelihood support for the host community, especially to farmers whose farmlands have been contaminated by acid water, and therefore, can no longer yield bounty and harvest fit for human consumption.

    Furthermore, the communiqué called for the establishment of a health centre in the community since the Colliery Hospital in the area has been converted to Isolation Centre to cater for victims of the dreaded coronavirus disease.

    The communiqué also called for the establishment of a skills acquisition centre in the community to train the teeming unemployed youths in various crafts.

    The youths appealed to the Lekeh Development Foundation to organize similar outings in other coal mining communities in the state including Coal Camp, Aboh, Asata, Nsude, Akwuke, and Akegbe-Ugwu.

    Others are Udi Siding, Ezeagu/Inyi, and Obioma Ezimo.

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