A nation in search of lasting solution to perennial flooding
Undoubtedly, flooding has become a perennial challenge in the country, seemingly defying all solutions. And when it occurs, as it does annually, it leaves in its wake destructions, displacements and deaths.
Memories of such displacements, occasioned by last year’s flooding in Gwagwalada, Abuja, which left some survivors homeless, were recently rekindled with the sight of some children beside the dreadful Gwagwalada River. It had been eight months since they were rendered homeless, and images of the children playing on mattresses in the open space beside the river were a sorry sight.
This is the experience of thousands of Nigerians displaced due to last year’s devastating flooding, which wreaked havoc across many states and left many in untold hardship. Aside from the high number of casualties recorded, many houses collapsed, several farmlands were wiped off just as many livestock were lost.
According to a report by the Red Cross, the flood cumulatively impacted 192, 594 people, with about 826 injuries and 24, 134 people displaced across 22 states. It recorded 155 fatalities. The report stated that the overflowing Benue and Niger rivers caused severe floods in Jigawa, Kebbi, Kwara, Sokoto and Zamfara states, affecting 91, 254 people or 15, 209 households. “At least 57 people died, 473 were injured and 22, 357 displaced. Flooding was also reported in the southern parts of the country, affecting the states of Bayelsa, Anambra, Rivers and Delta,” the report added.
The flooding was attributed to heavy rainfall in river catchments along with dam releases in neighbouring countries of Niger, Cameroun and Benin Republic, which also experienced massive flooding last year.
Sadly, if indicators from the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA), released early May are anything to go by, this year’s flooding will be overwhelming.
Identifying Sources, Causes Of Flooding
THE Minister of Water Resources and Rural Development, Suleiman Adamu, during the public presentation of 2021 Annual Flood Outlook (AFO), had raised the alarm that Nigerians should expect more floods this year, noting that 302 local councils in 36 states, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), fall within moderate flood risk areas, while 121 councils in 28 states are within the highly probable risk areas.
“This year, like 2020, we will be grappling with two threats of COVID-19 pandemic and related hygiene challenges, as well as the impending floods as predicted in the AFO. The 2021 floods levels will be higher than in the previous years, but will not attain the levels of the 2012 that was devastating,” he said.
The minister warned that states contiguous to rivers Niger and Benue, including Kebbi, Niger, Kwara, Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Nassarawa and Kogi, were likely to experience river flooding. Others are Anambra, Delta, Edo, Rivers, and Bayelsa states.
According to him, coastal flooding is also expected to affect Rivers, Cross River, Bayelsa, Delta, Lagos and Ondo states. “Flash and urban floods from heavy inundation are predicted to occur in some major cities. The severity would depend on the availability and adequacy of drainage systems and adherence to urban planning regulations,” he added.
Adamu called on stakeholders, including policymakers and agencies to rise to the challenge of the impending floods and threats of COVID-19.
Already, five states, including Ondo, Kwara, Anambra, Ekiti and Enugu have started feeling the pangs of the natural disaster. In April, over 40 houses were destroyed at Igisogba area of Akure Local Council, Ondo State, following a rainstorm that wreaked havoc on the community. In Aguleri, Anambra East Council, Anambra State, many buildings were destroyed by windstorm. Similar cases were recorded in Oro, Kwara State, Ekiti and Enugu states, among others.
The Guardian learnt that the torrential rainfall being witnessed is already giving many sleepless nights as some parts of the country are already being submerged. Yet, the country is ill-prepared to tackle the risks, owing partly to paucity of funds.
A water resource expert, Razak Jimoh, recently raised the alarm at a forum in Abuja, stressing that the country currently lacks dam capacity to properly arrest floods and prevent loss of produce. He said this was partly due to the current inadequate budgetary allocations to the water sector.
Jimoh, who noted that the sum of N475.6b estimated for the execution of the water sector was not enough, hence the abandonment of critical projects, emphasised that some of the critical projects meant for flood control, and management of water resources, but have remained on the drawing board for years due to paucity of funds, may spell doom for Nigeria, especially in the areas of destruction of crops and reduction in dry season farming.
“The amount proposed in the water resources document was only a quarter of what was required for the sector’s optimal performance. The project that was expected to arrest water from Cameroon’s Lagdo dam when over-flooded, for instance, had been on the drawing board for over 20 years. One of the worst flooding happened nine years ago in March 2012. A total of thirty-two states were affected, and thousands of acres of land flooded when the Benue and Niger rivers over-spilled. The Niger River reached a record-high level of 12.84m (42ft), as more than 360 people were killed and almost two million persons were displaced,” he recalled.
ALTHOUGH the degree of flooding in the country fluctuates, it has become a recurring phenomenon in most parts of the country. According to the Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NiMET), floods have become a perennial challenge with increasing intensity each year, leaving colossal losses and trauma. For instance, in 2018, the flood levels reached 11.06m, killing almost 200 people with thousands displaced. In 2017, it affected 250, 000 people in the eastern-central region; 92, 000 were displaced and 38 died in 2016; while more than 100, 000 were displaced with 53 deaths in 2015.
Data from the NiMET analysing 13 affected locations from 1981-2017, revealed a rising trend in yearly rainfall, which it says is likely to be a significant factor responsible for floods. But Zahrah Musa of the IHE Delft Institute for Water Education, said that heavy precipitation upstream on the Benue and Niger rivers – in Cameroon, Mali and Niger Republic – also contribute large volumes of water to Nigeria’s river system.
The first factor aggravating perennial flooding in coastal regions, according to experts, is climate change, which contributes more extreme storms and rainfall, while the other is the rising sea level in coastal areas, necessitating the need for dredging. The impact of the flooding was attributed to a combination of heavy downpour and the release of excess water from the Lagdo dam in neighbouring Cameroun.
The country hosts two of West Africa’s great rivers – River Niger, which enters the country from the Northwest and the Benue River, which flows into Nigeria from Cameroun. The two waterways meet in central Nigeria and flow south as a single river on to the Atlantic Ocean. Flooding occurs along these two rivers as their banks overflow during the rainy season.
Another factor identified as responsible for flooding is the poor state of dams. According to the Niger State Emergency Management Agency (NSEMA) boss, Hussaini Ibrahim, the three main electricity-generating dams — at Kainji and Jebba on the River Niger and the Shiroro dam on the Kaduna River, have become bloated by the heavy rains and excess water released downstream over the past months. He said the uncompleted Zungeru Dam in Niger State, partly funded by the Chinese government, is also believed to be affecting areas that were once free from flooding.
On the Benue River, the main concern is the Lagdo Dam in neighbouring Cameroon, which previously caused the river to swell by releasing water. Other factors listed by experts include, poor town planning, dumping of waste, which prevents steady flow of water and puts pressure on the few urban drainage systems, and deforestation, among others.
Tackling The Menace
THE Kebbi State Governor, Abubakar Atiku Bagudu told The Guardian that the solution may not be in sight as the flooding problem is not a localised issue.
He said: “Flooding happens everywhere. We need vast amount of money as a country to solve it. It’s not a localised issue. You can’t solve flooding in Kebbi alone. As a nation, you have to think about a national drainage architecture, because we have the lake Chad region, we have the Sokoto Basin, we have the Atlantic East and Atlantic West. These are all drainage systems that we need a national plan for, and it costs a lot of money. Water is needed somewhere, we are not very rich in water in Nigeria. Looking at it systematically and comprehensively, though expensive, it will enable us put a national plan in place that might involve dredging, creation of more artificial storage, and diverting the water to other places like Lake Chad that is losing its water.
“It’s going to cost billions of dollars, and we have to be patient, work together, and appreciate that water is one of the biggest human endowments and blessings that management, organising and taking advantage of by reducing the consequence of its activity cost a lot of money. River Niger, which cuts across four countries – Guinea, Mali, Niger and Nigeria, is one of the sources of flooding in the country. Nigeria, starting from Kebbi, Niger, Kogi, Anambra, Edo, Rivers -share the challenge of water coming downstream from as far as Guinea. So, describing it as an international issue is not out of place.
“Like in Kebbi, we also have water coming from the North – the Goronyo Dam in Sokoto, and a little bit further, Bakalori Dam in Zamfara – from where it comes to Kebbi that has a flood plain of about 300 kilometres, which is the River Rima flood plain, the rice producing plain. And we have River Zamfara also pumping water from other parts of the state. So, first is to establish that flooding is not a state problem. It can affect state, but all of us in Nigeria should realise that we are dealing with a national challenge affecting many states and certainly affecting everyone,” Bagudu said.
In line with Bagudu’s position, experts say if the impact of flooding is to be reduced in the future, there is need for greater co-operation between Nigeria and its neighbours in the control of river levels through dredging to avoid dangerous surges in water levels during the periods of heavy downpour.
They also stressed the need to address the consequences of rapid urbanisation and poor urban planning, adding that the wider issue of the increasing rainfall levels identified by the NiMET is attributed to climate change.
But the Federal Government’s position appears different. The Minister of Water Resources and Rural Development, Adamu, while responding to a backlash that followed the Jigawa flooding last October, said the flooding is natural and no amount of budgeting can stop it from happening.
“No power on earth can prevent hydro pressure; no power can stop water. The power of water is stronger than an atomic bomb. Some of the solutions people are talking about are technical issues. For instance, you cannot build a dam on River Hadejia because it stops the flow of water downstream; the flow is going to be back upstream thereby creating more problems for the communities in the upstream.”
According to him, there are no short-term measures to stop flooding, “but we can mitigate and do early warning. Every year, we announce the prediction of floods. Sometimes we are accurate; other times, we are not. In the prediction, we cannot predict the quantum of the flood until it comes. We only do what is humanly possible. It’s natural that floods must occur and we can only mitigate the dangers.”
Dredging River Niger To Mitigate Menace, Boost Coastal Economy
CUTTING through over 10 West African countries and nine states in Nigeria, the River Niger with a total length of about 4200 km is Africa’s third longest river after the Nile and the Congo/Zaire rivers, and the longest in the West African sub-region. It carries huge volume of water that boosts animal husbandry, intra-community inland water transportation, agriculture, fisheries and tourism, among others.
During the rainy season from June/July to September/October, water levels in the river increases from 1, 800 m³/sec in the dry season to more than 20,000 m³/sec. This has major impact on the current, which can peak to more than 3m/sec. Dropping to its normal low level during the dry season, the river becomes shallow for navigation and major inland water transportation.
While the river remains germane to the economy of the many states and the nation as a whole, the rise and fall in its water level have a two-edged effect on the people. Each time the river swells to its peak of more than 20, 000 m³/sec, it spells doom for the people, mostly farmers who live at low-lying areas. They experience flooding, damage of property, farmlands and far produces, at times loss of lives.
When the the river recedes, it turns to goldmine for fishermen while the silt deposited during the floods serves as veritable soil to grow different crops. There is boom in food crops and produce business, attracting buyers from far and near, and keeping the teeming youths and other category of workers engaged. Aside from this, the river boosts intra-community water transportation to a reasonable level because it has not been de-silted to take long distance travel and heavy vessels.
However, to stop these yearly losses from flooding which occurs when the river overflows, opinion leaders, community heads and concerned citizens, including the Edu/Patigi indigenes, led by Etsu Tsaragi, Aliyu Ndakpotwa Abdullahi, and Etsu Patigi, led by Ibrahim Umar Bologi II in Kwara State and the Izon Okosu indigenes in Delta State have called for the dredging of the river.
According to these leaders, doing so will open up the river to take in more water, especially excesses from rainfall and the various tributaries. They noted that the River Niger has accumulated a lot of sediments as it flows from Jebba to the Atlantic, to the extent that it is no longer as wide as 800 feet (240 metres) and 100 feet (30 metres) as once observed. They claim that the low plain areas are always flooded because rainwater that ought to go into the river cannot do so because it is usually filled beyond its banks at this period.
Residents and community leaders along the areas and the World Igbo Environment Foundation (WIEF), also noted that dredging the river and de-silting its tributaries will stop the perennial flooding experienced in most states along the bank of the river.
The foundation’s Executive Director, Dr. Odili Ojukwu, maintained that aside from mitigating the impact of flooding on affected communities and the national economy, that dredging has immense potential for trade and industry. He stressed that the project will boost the development of vibrant economy along coastal lines and decongest some major cities in the country.
He said: “Flooding in some states would be effectively contained if River Niger is appropriately dredged. The streams and rivers, which serve as flow corridors for floods are clogged up; they have to be de-silted to withstand flood considerably when it comes.”
Listing some of the gains the nation stand to get, the WIEF boss noted that it would increase coastal transport system, make the movement of human, goods and services along the region easier and cheaper, as well as enhance irrigation farming and boost agriculture.
Decrying the huge amount of money spent on relief materials, rebuilding of destroyed property and livelihoods on account of flood disaster, Ojukwu, just as other community leaders, noted that the cost of responding to flood and erosion emergencies is higher than the budget for environment ministry both at the Federal and state levels. He added that the approach of government to these emergencies is more reactionary than proactive each time the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) rallies.
He observed that the Federal Government is busy setting up Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs) camps without working on the possible measures to mitigate the challenges, as it is done in different countries in Asia and America, stressing that these countries do not wait until erosion and flooding cut off major roads and vehicles plunge into canals, or rivers, or claim human lives before they begin to put necessary things in place.
He called for an environmental policy that would take care of the over 100 settlements from Jebba to the Niger Delta. “Nigeria needs actionable environmental policy which is people-driven. Gone are the days when Abuja conceives projects and gives it to people without the knowledge of the terrain to implement such projects. There are non-structural issues that can be done without much money,” he said.
Successive governments have tried to properly dredge the River Niger and to develop effective and efficient inland waterways to no avail. The current administration, through the National Inland Waterways Authority (NIWA), has however invested hundreds of millions of naira to dredge the 575km-long lower River Niger from Baro to Warri. The dredging contract, which covers an estimated 572km in eight states namely Kogi, Niger, Edo, Delta, Anambra, Imo, Rivers and Bayelsa, is divided into five segments with several bifurcations — capital dredging works, maintenance dredging works, River training works (installation of navigational aids) and community development works.
According to the Minister of Transportation, Rotimi Amaechi, the dredging will make the river navigable throughout the year, apart from guaranteeing the minimum water depth for other industrial and marine uses.
National Drainage Architecture Needed To Regulate Flooding
AS Nigeria grapples with the threat of perennial flooding, a professor of Agricultural Engineering, at the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, Mohammed Khalid Othman, who specialises in irrigation, drainage, water supply and sanitation, stressed that resolving the flooding challenge could not be left to the Federal Government alone. He called on the 36 states governments and local council administrations to get involved, noting that victims of the flooding are always families and communities spread across the country.
He recalled that during last year’s raining season, for instance, a total of 28 states and 102 councils were affected by heavy flooding with different level of severity.
With flooding having been predicted to be severe this year, Othman said the nation ought to adopt a comprehensive and holistic approach to mitigating impending danger. He, however, bemoans the fact that “there in nothing in place to indicate this holistic approach is being prepared.”
He noted that the country has the dam capacity to properly arrest floods across the flashpoints, what with 323 large, medium and small dams being operated and mostly belonging to the Federal Government, and with a total storage capacity of more than 30 billion cubic metres of water. “When you consider these in addition to dams and reservoirs belonging to both states and local councils, then Nigeria has more than 600 dams. But most of these dams are grossly underutilised,” he said.
As an irrigation engineer, Othman has been privileged to visit several dams across the country, most of which were constructed for irrigation, hydropower generation, industrial and domestic supplies. But 20 to 30 years after the constructions begun, most of them the irrigation facilities are less than 30 per cent completion. According to him, not one of the large and medium dams has its irrigation facilities up to 60 per cent completion.
Most of the large dams were designed with the provision for hydropower generation but more than 30 years after construction that provision has not put in place. He listed some of such dams to include the Dadin Kowa Dam, Tiga Dam, Bakalori dam and Ikere Gorge dam, among others.
“The major problem with our dams is poor maintenance as many of them are silted with thousands of tons of sediments. The river basin development authorities (RBDA), the agencies responsible for operation and maintenance of these dams are in a shamble as they are grossly underfunded, understaffed and lack adequate facilities to effectively operate and maintain the dams.
“Additionally, there is lack of synergy between the RBDA, the owners of the dams, the Agricultural Development Programmes (ADPs), agencies for grassroots’ agricultural extension services in all the 36 states and agencies under Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD) responsible agricultural development.
This contributes to low utilisation of dams in Nigeria. So, instead of constructing more dams, we should make the existing dams effectively and increase their capacity utilisation. Government should devise a means of making its agencies synergise for common goal and increased productivity,” he said.
Othman suggested that the various dams could be used to control water surges from the rivers if they are desilted and sediments removed to bring them to designed capacities. He said this would also increase the usage of the water by 100 per cent to achieve the purposes of the dams, aid irrigation, generate hydropower and increase urban and community water supply.
He also canvassed the formation of a National Drainage Architecture to champion the dredging and regulation of activities of stakeholders who will play key roles in boosting the economy after the dredging.
“The agency can be assigned all issues around causes and prevention of both urban and river flooding in addition to river protection. Nigeria is blessed to have River Niger passing through it and draining into the Atlantic Ocean. There must be an agency to ensure that the water passing through the country is safely drained into the ocean, especially under the prevalent climate change.
“More importantly, however, to get a permanent solution to flooding, we need to identify flood prone areas and the likely severity. We must remove sediments, buildings and any other obstacles that prevent water from freely passing. Our dams are silted, we have to remove these silts, debris, aquatic weeds and rehabilitate dams embankment and repair water retention structures. We may have to construct river diversion structures where such rivers become threat to inhabitants. We must clean our streets and remove the debris to appropriate places. We must use media to campaign and mobilise people to undertake periodic environmental sanitation, and government must sanction people who block waterways, gutters, drains and manholes,” the drainage expert said.