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The warning on a sinking Lagos

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Lagos

There is cause to worry about the possibility of Lagos being submerged by water in the not-too-distant future. Such an apprehension is borne not just because of the series of projections and reports tending towards such doomsday scenario, but also because recent rainfall and its effect on the country’s commercial nerve centre and former federal capital reasonably point to the beginning of the projections. For instance, the torrential downpour about five weeks ago submerged vehicles on Marina and other parts of Lagos Island including Lekki, buttressing the growing apprehension about a possible sea level rise and how it could submerge Lagos and other coastal cities in Nigeria.

The ugly scenario is no longer mere conjecture but a reality based on climate change projections and its disastrous effects around the world. Sea level rise could sink Lagos, already in a low topography compared to the sea. How to protect lives, properties and infrastructure is of critical importance. Lagos Island, by geographic calculation, is one of the fastest sinking cities that might go down in about 2050. There are about 10 such cities and Lagos is one of them as noted by the Director-General of the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) at a news conference lately.

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Some other independent reports tend to strengthen the projection. They include a report by Climate Central, a scientific organization based in New Jersey, United States, published in the journal, Nature Communications, that shows that half of 300 million people currently living in areas that are flooded at least once a year, would be submerged by high tide line by 2050. At risk are large proportions of heavily populated coastal cities like Lagos, which is home to more than 18 million people and could be entirely under water in the next 30 years.

Also, the Nigerian Conservation Foundation (NCF) not long ago, raised the alarm that Lagos and other coastal cities that are less than one metre above sea level could be submerged by 2050 if the ocean surge continues. The submission corroborates a projection made by United Nations scientists working on climate change, who, after extensive studies, said there is the likelihood of the world’s oceans rising by one metre between 2030 and 2050.

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Consequently, cities that are less than one metre above sea level are under threat of submergence. Lagos and many Nigeria’s coastal towns and cities are in this category besides the oil industry infrastructure in the Niger Delta region. Such highly probable scenario has strengthened the fears of climate scientists that the world may be headed for disaster of catastrophic dimension except urgent measures are taken to mitigate the impacts.

Incidentally in Lagos, many activities taking place in the Atlantic, such as creating more megacities like Banana Island, Eko Atlantic City and Lekki are believed to constitute potential threat to the safety of the state. The dredging or sand-filling in these places disturb the ecosystem equilibrium.

There may not be a clear cut solution for now; but prevention is better than cure. Lagos authorities should take care of drainage channels. Floodwater harvesting should be an option. The authorities should think out of the box on how to manage destructive flood waters. But this is equally a task for the federal government, given the role and status of Lagos to the country. An Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) study should be carried out based on simulated sea level rise to ascertain the possible impact of submergence on Lagos and other coastal communities in Nigeria.

Nigeria should collaborate with countries on the Atlantic seaboard of West Africa with the aim of finding a common ground. There should be massive investment in coastal barriers – levees and embankments – to shield inland settlements from the ocean. Lagos State has reportedly earmarked N36 billion to tackle the menace, but that alone cannot avert the disaster. The country needs systematic development control measures to prevent indiscriminate development in coastal flood plains that block natural passage of water, bearing in mind that water will find its level.

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Among others, strong environmental regulatory measures are required to enforce the law. People must adapt to the emerging reality. Compromising on this would be disastrous. There should be no room for complacency or undue politicking over this very important matter that borders on survival. Government must be strong to be able to tackle this challenge.

President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise in 2015, at a summit on Climate Change at the UN headquarters in New York, that Nigeria was committed to the adoption of a legally binding universal agreement to mitigate climate change should be matched with concrete action at home without further delay. In this regard, caution should be exercised in the plan to develop three islands, namely: Diamond, Orange and Gracefield Phoenix islands beside the Eko Atlantic City project. Reason is that these islands will involve the reclamation of large expanse of land in the designated areas, which may divert the flow of water into human settlement.

Proper environmental impact assessment (EIA) should be carried out to determine the degree of impact the artificial islands would have on coastal and marine ecosystem. The impacts should be ascertained beforehand to prevent disaster. There should be development control along the beaches. Lagos and the Federal Government need to collaborate and work proactively at eliminating or reducing the danger of Lagos being submerged.

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