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Understanding flooding in Nigeria and finding solutions

By Femi D. Ogunnigbo and Taiwo Ogunwumi
08 November 2022   |   2:52 am
As of October 24, 2022, the situation report reveals that 612 people have been killed, and 2,776 persons injured by this year’s flood, Nigeria Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development,...

[FILES] Hajiya Sadiya Farouq

As of October 24, 2022, the situation report reveals that 612 people have been killed, and 2,776 persons injured by this year’s flood, Nigeria Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiyya Farouq, stated. Finding a solution to flooding remains understanding the root causes first which can either be natural or human factors or both, Dr. Josiah Omirin, a lecturer at the Urban and Regional Planning Department at the University of Ibadan stated in a phone interview in gathering information for this report.

Natural factors can be classified into two. First, primary factors include excessive rainfall resulting in pluvial flooding (caused by climate change); and sea level rise which causes coastal flooding. Second is the secondary factor such as dams breaking, blockage of culverts; and narrow drainage channels.

On the other hand, human root causes highly influenced flooding disasters. They include urbanization (with respect to limited space, pushing people to build in unsafe places); poor implementation of planning laws and regulations caused largely by corruption; increased impervious surfaces; land reclamation; and poor waste management practices.

Indeed, the degree of exposure to flooding is location specific. Low elevation also known as low-lying or depressed areas are highly vulnerable to flooding than high elevation. Water flows down from a higher elevation to a lower elevation. As excess water is discharged from Lagdo Dam in Cameroon passing through the River Benue down to the Niger Delta region caused this year’s flooding, reports have shown.

The Terrain Modeling conducted for this report by Olagoke Owodumi, a Geographic Information System (GIS) researcher reveals that the most affected states in this year’s flooding (Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Rivers, and, the Federal Capital Territory) are all within the lowland areas.

Terrain Modeling of Nigeria / Olagoke Owodumi / Oct. 29, 2022
Studies have shown that flooding can be addressed by two approaches, structural and nonstructural. The structural approach includes flood and erosion control mechanisms such as dams, drainage systems, sea defense, dykes, flood retention ponds, and vegetation. While the nonstructural approaches are early warning services, flood risk assessments, emergency institutions services, advocacy, policies and environmental regulations, social safety net, insurance (for flood protection and risk reduction), and ecological funds.
Analysts have argued that flood disaster management is the responsibility of the government who protect the lives and properties of citizens. “Much more is required from government institutions that are saddled with the task of prevention, mitigation, and preparedness to reduce and address post-flooding issues like relief and recovery,” said by Dr. Chukwudi Njoku, a flood expert, who was present on the Twitter Space (joined by182 participants) held prior to the compiling of this report.

In 2011, it was reported that governments ignored early warning messages from Nigeria’s Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). More than 25 people lost their lives in Ibadan. In 2012, 363 were reported killed by the flood. This June, Nigerian Metrological Agency (NIMET) warned that 33 states are at risk of flooding. Yet, no active measures were put in place for preparedness. Preparedness reduces risk and cost. More than 600 people died.

Government should provide advanced training support for staff in emergency institutions. They should be equipped with the necessary emergency preparedness and quick response apparatus. This solution goes beyond the generic Annual Flood Outlook report that’s normally shared and communicated via NEMA/NIHSA website. For highly detailed flood risk mapping and for data sharing, the government should partner with nongovernmental organizations and other flood mapping initiatives using the OpenStreetMap platform (a geographic database of the world) to map towns and communities.

Flood and disaster risk experts are also needed at this time. Njoku believed that development practitioners and researchers have a role in identifying gaps and providing solutions.
The question is, how can different levels of government (local, state, and federal) make decisions about flood risk reduction measures? Mr. Olumide Idowu argued that local government should be held accountable for local initiatives. He believed that citizen participation is vital. He further that people should start questioning their local authorities. “If we don’t start with these people that we see and people that are closer to us, then how do we get to the level of a minister at federal or state that is far from us?”

Another question is, how can the local, state, and federal interact in solving flood disasters? And how can two ministries avoid duplication of services? For instance, there is a disagreement between the Federal Ministry of Environment and the Federal Ministry of Water Resources regarding whose responsibility it is to address flood issues. Government should resolve rivalries between one ministry and the others, and strengthen cooperation between the three tiers of government.

Media and investigative journalists should write reports on the use of ecological funds. They should also verify the project outcome as this will let the concerns (including the legislative) have access to the right information to hold whoever is responsible accountable. However, investigative journalism demands resources. Mr. Akíntúndé Babátúndé, the Deputy Director at the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development emphasized that investigative journalism required time (2-4 weeks minimum) and is expensive ($1000-$1500) as media houses have limited resources in developing such reports.

Recently, the United States through U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) provides $1 million in humanitarian aid for flood victims in Nigeria. Funding organizations should also support media and newspaper outlets (including research institutions) with financial aid for solution-driven reporting in the country.

Dr. Tolu Osayomi, a medical geographer and spatial epidemiologist at the University of Ibadan maintained that government alone could not solve this problem as individuals and communities should mitigate flood disasters by adhering to environmental regulations and stopping illegal building practices. Meanwhile, it is unlawful to build houses encroaching into setbacks of rivers/streams and drainages. With effective regulations, people living in flood-prone zones would find it hard to go back to the same places as soon as the flood subsides.

Njoku furthered that individuals can drive effective flood measures by adopting digital advocacy and submitting their petitions on “Putting the issue in the front burner of discussions will create more awareness and aid implementation of recently signed National Emergency Flood Preparedness and Response Plans,” he stated.

It is now time to review laws and regulations protecting citizens. Complete the Dasin Hausa Dam in Adamawa State, a buffer dam expected to control the excess water from Lagdo Dam from Cameroon as this will help the country’s risk reduction efforts. Both structural and nonstructural approaches should be employed in building resilient cities and communities.
Ogunnigbo is an environmental consultant at Going Green International Consults Limited; Ogunwumi is a flood risk consultant and a G.I.S. expert.