As a 10-year-old, Ibrahim Muhammad Shamsuddin and his group of new friends looked on as their community began to lose everything they owned to floods.
He watched as the situation around his family’s newly-built home turned catastrophic. An unusual weather pattern in Zaria, Kaduna state, has resulted in weeks of rain. Then, the raging waters swallowed their home on the shores of the River Galma, along with all their household items.
“I cannot forget that day we waded through the waters to a refuge centre,” he narrated. Even today, his voice shakes slightly as he tells the story.
Shamsuddin’s father, a Nigeria Railway Corporation retiree, had invested years of savings to put up a home in Zaria. The family, after spending years in the city, had just settled into their new home when they were wiped out by the floodwater. The experience haunts him to this day.
“I was depressed for months. My performance in school was a mess because I witnessed the worst of floods,” he recounts.
Today, the 28-year-old climate change activist uses that memory as motivation to fight for access to information, especially in rural areas, so that other people don’t end up in the same situation.
The passionate chemistry scholar now uses research, community organizing, and technology to reach and teach people in rural Kaduna about how to adapt to climate change. He also helped start the Break Free from Plastics Awareness Initiative and is a regional coordinator for the African Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC).
A big focus for both groups is plastic disposal and plastic replacement (known as plastic forfeiting) as well as clean cooking. Sometimes the two overlap; all too often, plastics find their way into cooking fires.
“Over time, the impact of cooking using conventional cooking methods has turned out to be a health hazard for many households in Kaduna,” he explained. “A woman from rural Zaria caught a respiratory infection. At the hospital, she was asked when she stopped smoking, yet she has never smoked,” he added.
According to his research findings, nearly 40% of agricultural output in the area is waste. He saw an opportunity. If the agricultural waste could be converted to biomass and used for cooking, he would kill two birds with one stone. On one hand, he would save the community’s respiratory health by offering a clean cooking solution; on the other hand, he would be saving the trees usually cut down to produce charcoal and cooking wood.
He explained that deforestation interferes with the water-holding potential of soil, lowering water infiltration into the ground and thus increasing flooding. He said he realised his research could lead to a direct impact on the ground, with positive outcomes both for the community and for the environment—and, long-term, for the climate.
“From 2018 to date, we have successfully trained more than 7000 women on making briquettes from agricultural waste,” he said.
He thinks that more inventions will help reduce indoor pollution and flooding, which will make life better.
His goal is to see the community in Zaria, and, by extension, the wider Kaduna State, impacted by knowledge and practical, clean solutions to energy needs.
“Recently, for instance, I visited a community where we had earlier trained women on biomass-briquette generation and they were there all bubbly and praising the efficiency of the briquettes. That is the impact I wish for my community,” he narrated.
Ibrahim also said he believes if there is increased awareness leveraging local media, the majority of Africa’s population in rural areas would be more informed on the changing climate and how to adapt. For now, his activism keeps childhood memories and trauma at bay.
Story by bird story agency
Photo Credit: Ibrahim Muhammad Shamsuddin