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Who stole harmattan?

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Last January, I visited Lagos for some projects which involved teaching youths in a film making class. I saw my 80-year-old grandma and I asked her the three questions I always ask, when I see her: How are you doing? How is grandpa? And, have you had light? So, not just being excited to see me, she settled down to give me the usual answers she always gives; I’m fine, your grandpa is fine also – he is in Ijebu, and light is ‘so-so’. Then this time, she added something else, “But we still haven’t seen harmattan because it is very hot.”

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I lived in Lagos and I remember very well the first time I heard the word harmattan. It was after Christmas, and people began to wear sweaters and turned the air conditioners off around me. I always asked, “why are you wearing sweaters,” and they said it was harmattan season. I learned then that harmattan was simply the dusty wind that blew from the Sahara towards the Savannah, blanketing the sun at times, and it brought cool weather. I still remember laughing because people were sweaters, in the tropical morning heat.
This time around, it was getting towards the end of January, and harmattan was yet to show up.

Over the last eight years, there has been a noticeable change in weather patterns across the continent, but it was becoming more defined in Nigeria. I am not a historian, but in the last 10 years prior, I hadn’t read or seen anywhere in the news, where there were severe floods. I know in the Lekki area of Lagos, there were two years in a row where parts of the neighbourhood were flooded for a few days, because of heavier rains, than usual. So okay, it’s in a waterlogged area, and there was little drainage issues, from what I read. But what about the northern parts of Nigeria? In the last two years, there have been floods like never seen before, and entire towns were flooded to near roof levels of the houses. I was sad to read that people had died, and many more were getting sick because there was no longer good water to drink. But it’s not just in Nigeria.

Just last month at the World Economic Forum in Davos, they had record snow so thick, that all the decision makers that attended complained, and so, for the first time in a few years, Climate Change became a more practical topic for discussion. And then a few days later in Paris – France, for the first time in over 50 years, they had rainfall that badly flooded parts of the city, and tourists were unhappy because they couldn’t cruise on the Seine River. One of the city’s famous tourist attractions – Le Louvre was closed. So for these tourists, their question was not ‘Who stole harmattan,’ but ‘Who stole my holidays’?

Back to my grandma and helping her find harmattan, the weather change is becoming a problem and I don’t know who in Nigeria is ready for this kind of detective work – looking for Harmattan that is. As a filmmaker, I learned a little about some adult things of life, like budgeting, and planning. These two things work, because you know what to expect – right! But if a weather pattern you have known for decades and in some cases, centuries, suddenly begins to change, then, how do you plan.

I think the scariest part is not that the weather pattern is changing, it is that no one knows what to expect next. Just two weeks ago, the city of Cape Town announced that they are not just rationing water, but would perhaps close the water supply pretty soon, because of severe drought and very low water levels in the reservoir that supplies the city. Can that happen in Nigeria? I think it can. If it does, how would that affect people’s lives, and what plans are in place?

In November last year, I was asked to speak at COP23 about Climate Change, and how I thought it affected Education, because they wanted to hear about this topic from an education advocate. When I got up to speak, all the leaders in the conference were expecting me to tell them about how I think it is affecting lives, and the floods it created. But as a child and an education advocate, I saw a different challenge – school curriculum. So I had some serious questions for the leaders who make education policies and designed education curriculum. When a subject like geography is being taught, what weather pattern are they teaching? The one between 1900 and perhaps 2010 that was very predictable, or the one being experienced from say, 2015 onwards, when things were no longer predictable?

The audience at COP23 were surprised at what I said. Then they asked me if I had questions for the panel. Thinking about it now, if I had met my grandma just a few weeks earlier, I could have asked them the same question she asked me, that led to my own question – Who stole harmattan? Perhaps this phenomenon known as ‘Climate Change’ is more guilty and more severe, than we all think.


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