Written by Staff Writer at CNN
For the owners of an impoverished neighborhood in the town of Abia, China gave them some good news: bulldozers had started demolishing the huge piles of sand holding up the waters of the Niger River, one of the great waterways that flows south down Nigeria’s east coast.
The experts were behind the groundbreaking technique, which would allow the water to flow straight into the sea without carrying sand and stones downstream.
Fast forward to this April and men armed with picks were attempting to topple the stones, covered in dust, with each digger.
“It took us so long to clear up the sacks of sand we have used for the past 18 years,” says Ben Ukwuokwu, 53, the owner of Alagoa Estate, one of the buildings affected by the site of the new structure.
He says both the dry season and the rainy season, which started in September, have been extremely bad, making the work to clear the land extremely difficult.
“The rainy season is suppose to be a month-long thing, but it’s only been 15 days,” he told CNN.
Situated in the state of Abia, China has developed itself to one of the world’s most productive manufacturing hubs.
Dead fish hanging from the beached ship hitches in Nigeria’s Lake Chad. CNN/Nick Ede
Years of industrial expansion and wholesale abandonment have left much of Abia’s coastline between the cities of Aba and Port Harcourt as a muddy and unwelcoming wasteland, at one point swallowing up the regional capital, Umuahia.
But in recent years, an influx of trained men from China, with the end goal of cleaning up the mess left behind in Africa’s largest economy, has transformed many of the areas near the Niger River in Abia into ecologically sustainable communities.
With the economic crisis that still smolders in Nigeria behind it, many of the jobs in China and China’s migrants to Nigeria have moved away.
Apart from those trying to repair and improve the landscape of China’s biggest African export market, China is also investing in renewable energy generation in Nigeria to improve the country’s energy problems and support its growing population.
But while the environment in Abia is starting to improve, there is still little interest from China in fixing the faults that caused the damage, one of the world’s most volatile and heavily polluted rivers, in the first place.
l e v a r t
The Niger River, which emptied into Lake Chad, had become so polluted due to dams, dikes and extraction of its salinity, the surface became impermeable to water.
That, and by building foundations for houses near the man-made water course, in an attempt to save money, local residents, including Ukwuokwu, who once owned a nearby farm, have made their land unlivable.
These days, the grass-roots push for reparations from Chinese or international authorities has eased, but however much the land can be put back into productive use, it will never truly return to the fertile land it once was.
But that may not matter for the people of Alagoa Estate, who aim to be re-established as a third-rate farming community.
“I am grateful to the Chinese and their skills in creating the structures, helping to introduce farming techniques to us that can lead to growth in our own land,” Ukwuokwu says.