Each year, millions of people the world over are driven to forced displacement. From the Maldives to Brazil, and even here in Canada, the disturbing accounts of people who have been uprooted are amazingly similar. The enormous pressure placed on rural populations as a result of the degradation of their life-supporting environment is driving them further from their way of life. The documentary sheds light on the little-known plight of a category of individuals who are suffering the repercussions of this reality: environmental refugees. They are constantly growing in number and often have no legal status, even though their right to a clean and sustainable environment has been violated.
October 31, 2009 08:31PMT
Ever since a telecommunications mast was sited within Otemu Anaughe's compound at Kuje Amuwo three years ago, epileptic power supply had become a thing of the past. Based on negotiations with a telecoms company and owner of the mast, a couple of mobile handsets and guards, as well as 24 hour power supply were thrown into the deal in exchange for installation of the mast. And, apart from the conspicuous space which it occupied in the compound, the mast had been of relatively no worry to the Anaughes.
Following the increasing use of mobile phones and the subsequent growth in the number of base stations however, there has been an increasing concern over the health effects of exposure of humans and animals to the electromagnetic radiation emitted from the telecoms masts, and Mr. Anaughe, in his late twenties is worried. "It will be very good if they can really prove the safety or non safety of these masts," he said.
A recent finding
In a 2009 study by a group of researchers from the Faculty of Science and College of Medicine, University of Lagos, titled 'Preliminary Study on the Induction of Sperm Head Abnormalities in Mice, Mus musculus, Exposed to Radiofrequency Radiations from Global System for Mobile Communication Base Stations', male mice exposed to refractoriness radiations from mobile phone (GSM) base stations at a workplace complex and residential quarters were seen to show remarkable alterations in their sperm heads. The sperm head alterations were also found to be directly related to the length of exposure to the radiations.
"The observation in this study of an increase in frequency of occurrence of sperm head abnormalities in exposed mice therefore adds to the growing evidence within the scientific community of the potential reproductive health effects of the constant exposure to radiofrequency radiations especially from GSM base stations which currently dots the landscape of many developing countries including Nigeria," the wstudy stated.
Base station myths
Most residents near base stations believe there are no associated health hazards whether on the short or long run. "I'm only aware of high tension (electricity) cables because they emit charges. But this one (telecoms mast) does not - that I'm aware of," said Mr. Anaughe.
Adebayo Otitoloju, a lecturer and researcher at the Department of Zoology, University of Lagos, said the health implications of the close proximity of telecoms masts near residential homes is still a topic of debate within the scientific community.
"It may be potentially dangerous but it is quite inconclusive. More so, the information within the scientific community is quite controversial. While a lot of reports say it is dangerous, there are so many others, that state that radiations from telecoms base stations are safe," he said.
According to a report of the Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones, known as the Stewart Report, published in 2000, indicated that there was no general risk to the health of people living near base stations. However, there was some evidence of biological effects at exposures below international guidelines. Subsequent reports confirmed there was no hard information showing that mobile phone systems have a damaging effect on health.
Also, according to a statement on the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s website, "from all evidence accumulated so far, there have been no adverse short or long term health effects occurring from exposure to the signals produced by mobile phones and base station transmitters. However, studies had only looked at cancer and cancer-related topics."
The real concern
According to the study, the real environmental concern in developing countries is the manner in which these base stations are sited in close proximity to residential homes, offices, hospitals, and schools; thereby increasing exposure level.
"This high level of exposure may ultimately cause problems to the general populace in the long term since there is really no conclusive evidence that radio-frequency radiations are safe," the study stated.
It admitted the inherent difficulty in extrapolating the results obtained in mice to humans, but affirmed the potential public health risks that can be associated with exposure to radio-frequency radiations. It implored regulatory agencies to adopt the precautionary principle - better safe than sorry - in dealing with matters related to human exposure to these radiations.
It will be recalled that, earlier in the year, the executive chairman of the Nigerian Communications Commission, Ernest Ndukwe, in an address at a workshop on the problems associated with EMF emission from base stations and telecoms masts had said "There have been growing concerns about the adverse effect on the general public from exposure to radiofrequency energy and concerns have also been expressed about the siting of RF base stations close to residential buildings."
Mr. Ndukwe admitted, in that forum, that there was increasing literature showing that the exposure to radiation from base stations and mobile handsets could lead to increased risks of illnesses such as cancer and could adversely affect cognitive properties like concentration. He also said it could be linked to degrees of amnesia, headaches, dizziness, epilepsy and others.
He then appealed to telecommunications companies to share available masts and base stations in order to reduce the health concerns associated with the multiple and indiscriminate erection of communication masts.