Checking the flood disaster
With more than 600 deaths and over a million people displaced by flood this year, it is time for Nigerian authorities to come to terms with the reality that climate change and haphazard town planning, among others, have fully endangered many parts of the country. Neither the authorities, nor Nigerians, can afford to go on with life as usual; and importantly, there must be concerted efforts by all stakeholders towards preventing future devastations by flood, in addition to finding short-term solutions to the current situation. Experts have warned that the causes of flood will endure till next month; but governments at all levels must rise beyond mere rhetoric to stem the prevailing anguish.
In Bayelsa State alone, reports show that floods have displaced over 700,000 people and submerged some 300 communities, an indictment on the authorities for not being proactive to prevent or at least minimize the disastrous impacts of the floods. Floods have been ravaging many other states across the country. Floodwaters have inundated numerous communities along the banks of the Rivers Niger and Benue, as well as Lokoja, the capital city of Kogi, according to satellite imagery shared by NASA.
Vehicles are seen submerged in flood water even as major highways in the country have literally closed to traffic. The effects include scarcity of fuel and gas, following disruption to supply.
In Anambra State, a boat carrying 85 persons capsized in the River Niger following rising floodwaters in Ogbaru area of the state with emergency bodies confirming a death toll of 76 people. Also in Bayelsa, flood dislodged corpses from a mortuary and washed them away. The incidents are despite rescue and recovery missions carried out by Nigerian Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA) and the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA).
Given however that the rainy season is bound to generate seasonal flooding in many parts of the country, it is necessary for government and the people to take proactive measures to prevent loss of lives and properties, damage to infrastructure, disruption of socio-economic activities and even displacement of people in flooded areas. In particular, the warnings usually issued by the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA), should be taken seriously and heeded in order to avoid disaster. But government must provide the lead, as people mostly are highly constrained, for many reasons.
One of the factors attributable to flood in the country problems is poor town planning, juxtaposed with Nigeria’s rapidly expanding population. Another factor is government’s poor response. Every year, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) and the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) issue warnings on floods, as they did this year; but nothing concrete is done to prevent the subsequent tragedies.
Therefore, beyond the need to sensitise people, especially, those living in flood plains, on the danger and ramification of flood, including food shortage, government at all levels must provide concrete measures for the affected people. Evacuation of people living in the danger zones is one sure way to save lives. Although, NIHSA does not usually give precise dates for the flooding, from experience, flooding in Nigeria occurs at the peak of the rainy season in June and towards the end of September/October.
Flash floods usually occur in some urban areas like Lagos, Port Harcourt, Sokoto, Ibadan, Kaduna, Yola, Maiduguri, Makurdi and Hadejia due to poor drainage systems. Flooding usually occurs in Nigeria from a combination of heavy downpour, ocean surge or the release of water from the Lagbo Dam in northern Cameroon. Each year, coastal communities and those on flood plains, especially, on the Niger/Benue trough bear the pains.
The failure of Nigeria to complete the receptor dam at the Mambila Plateau that ought to check flooding downstream the River Benue is also partly responsible for the massive floodwaters that ravaged Lokoja, Anambra and Bayelsa states. The solution is to build dams where necessary to check the floodwaters. Following the disaster of 2013, there was reportedly an agreement between Cameroon and Nigeria, which required Cameroon to give early warning notice to enable Nigeria put in place proactive measures to prevent destruction of lives and properties. If there is such an agreement, it is obvious that it is not obeyed. But Nigeria ought to take proactive measures whether or not there is a warning from Cameroon.
Concerns have also been raised on alleged mismanagement of Ecological Fund, meant to address emergencies including those caused by flooding. Lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana has recently accused the Federal Government of failing to release money from the Ecological Fund to the affected states; and that the various State Governments have equally failed to provide relief materials for the victims.
Recent downpours, which submerged Lekki Residential Areas Phases One and Two in Lagos, is a warning for government to erect appropriate protective dykes and embankments to shield the areas from the ravages of the Atlantic Ocean. Lagos State Government had appropriately earmarked N36 billion to tackle the menace of ocean surge by building 18 groynes (sea breakers), at intervals of 40 meters between Goshen Estate and Alpha Beach. Other states’ authorities along the Atlantic coastline should take cue from Lagos State.
The same measures should be extended inland by states bordering the Rivers Niger/Benue system while the Federal Government should collaborate with the states accordingly. There should be a taskforce on dam building to checkmate flooding as well as provide water for irrigation.
There should also be public enlightenment at the community levels, to educate the public on the dangers ahead and how to prevent it. Traditional rulers, council chairmen, community and youth leaders should work together to educate the people in their domain. They should ensure that blocked drainage channels are cleared. The flood warnings should not be ignored, to avoid unpleasant consequences.