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Climate change health-related experiences heightens fears in Rivers State

 By Menidin Egbo

Following the unusual heavy rain of Saturday, January 8, 2022, and allegedly experienced health related impacts, residents of Port Harcourt in Rivers State are under fear of increasing health burdens that may be induced by climate change realities. 

Nyesom Ezenwo Wike (@GovWike) / Twitter
Gov. Wike


Cases of severe cold, catarrh and cough, body pains, headache, restlessness and accompanying sleeplessness were among symptoms of unidentified ailments that were experienced (allegedly) as emergent fallout from the rain. This first heavy rain of the year as acknowledged in some places around the city of Port Harcourt lasted for hours unto the later part of the afternoon on that second Saturday of year 2022.

Our reporter who monitored the health-related experiences of the rain, together with its perceived“unusual experiences at this time of the year”, observed that most of those who reported the symptoms are people within the lower income level. These victims, comprising of men and women, are mostly of those who cannot easily attend a health institution, either due to inability to pay medical bills or for alleged lack of trust in health services or personnel in nearby health facilities.

According to Mr. Patrick Chiekwe, he and another member of his family suffered a good deal of the “experienced strange symptoms” following the heavy rain of Saturday, January 8, 2022. He told our reporter that when the symptoms were getting severe and more uncomfortable, his family resorted to self-help. Other people reported merely taking only paracetamol tablet and warm water to help out.

A number of persons who also suffered the symptoms of illness that proceeded from the rain that day saw the experiences as short-lived and ussually commonly witnessed during weather conditions transitory periods. Some claimed that similar conditions can be observed when weather changes move from dry season to rainy season in April or May, and sometime early June in some years.

A postgraduate student of Rivers State University, Mr. Marshal Irisoanga, also told our reporter in Port Harcourt that he never thought of taking medication for the experienced illness associated with thatrain. He said he knew the experiences will “disappear in few hours”. He further explained that the symptoms actually stopped by the early hours of Sunday, January 9, 2022.

Mr. Chiekwe who is the Executive Director of Foundation for the Conservation of the Earth (FOCONE), a non-governmental Organization (NGO) base in Port Harcourt, observed that the conditions of illness suffered by people on that January 8 could not be disassociated from impacts of climate change challenges. Other environmentalists agree that the period did not match with that kind of rain and its experienced aftermath of “sundry strange symptoms of illness, and severe cold”. They posited that the situation only raises concerns of fear and uncertainty.

For 54 years Apostle George Kingsley Papamie, his family suffered the strange symptoms brought about by the rain of January 8. The case of his family additionally witnessed prolonged experience of catarrh and cough that brought fear of possible infection, making his family choosing to remain indoors. “For three days, we were indoors, to avoid spreading an unknown infection to other members

of society”, said he.

The Executive Director of Eco-outreach and Development Centre, a non-governmental organization, Dr. Francis Ikuponisi, countered that it is “not unusual for sudden rains to fall in the months of December and January, or other parts of the dry season”. According to Dr. Francis Ikuponisi, who is an agronomist and biodiversity conservation expert, such rains are wont to occasion sudden temperature drop with accompanying human discomfort across tropical areas. Implying that the singular case of experienced symptoms being reported cannot be enough to cause scare, he equally warn against acts that may aggravate climate impacts which are obviously being noticed.

Supporting the views of Ikuponisi on minimizing or preventing and mitigating climate impacts, a female scholar of medical sciences spoke anonymously of different likely factors that could trigger the symptoms allegedly experienced with the January 8, 2022 rain. She emphatically condemned the practices currently contributing to the wide experience of “black soot” in different parts of the Niger Delta. She pointed out that such environmentally damaging factors are man-made, and can be responsible for causing symptoms of illnesses.

When contacted, sources within the state ministry of health in the state declined from making official statement on the rain effects of Saturday, January 8, 2022. Our reporter only gathered that there exists some health policy and action framework for adequate state response to health-related impacts of climate change within the state. Our source indicated that the Ministry has its action-ready strategy in line with Nigeria’s policies on climate change mitigation and adaptation to address health related cases within Rivers State. Since December 2011, the Federal Ministry of Environment Climate Change Department and allied partners adopted the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NASPA-CCN) for Nigeria.

Members of the public randomly interviewed on the matter expressed doubt whether any health action policy document exists in the state. One respondent angrily said: “It won’t be surprising that even some staff of the health ministry may not be aware of any health action blueprint anywhere”.

However, a private medical practitioner who spoke on anonymity to our reporter cautioned that the reported symptoms and their claimed responsible factors need to be investigated for any proven scientific conclusion. He, however, called for collaboration building among stakeholders to improve capabilities of collective response to climate related health challenges for the benefit of the society.

Pointing out that not “lower than 60% of patients attending approved health institutions in Nigeria are seen by private medical practitioners”, he urged state agents to desist from treating non-state actors as opponents in the discharge of the public duty to serve for the benefit of ensuring a healthy society.

In a related response, an environmental activist told our reporter that he and network members of civil society groups are yet to know of the existence of any climate-related health policy and action plan for which community-based actors could make input to achieve success over the task of addressing climate impacts; but our contacted private medical practitioner further pointed out that capturing new cases of observed disease outbreak and health challenges is critical to private health workers in their day-to-day work of investigating, treating and sharing information on (or reporting) health-related cases to provide input for the global effort to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly SDG 3: “Good health and wellbeing” for all. He regretted that there are still lingering gaps around trust

building, information sharing, mutual encouragement and collective action, stating that the thrust of state response must address these gaps to ensure a sustainable sub-national and local drive to improve health sector-based collective contribution to global development effort.

In a similar response, Mr. Chiekwe further said that civil society organizations, and particularly community-based groups, have a role to play in addressing climate impacts and related health challenges. He explained that mobilizing local participation, raising awareness and creating sensitization are part of what CSOs traditionally do in addition to generating data, promoting research and using advocacy to support development processes to build formidable foundation for sustainable success.

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