Nubi: With effective deployment of technology, impact of natural disasters can be mitigated
Immediate past Dean, Faculty of Environmental Sciences, University of Lagos, Prof. Timothy Gbenga Nubi, in this interview with GERALDINE AKUTU, said with the advancement in technology, vagaries of nature should not take us unawares.
What are the major factors that predispose a state or states to flooding from time to time?
First and foremost, Lagos State, where I reside is a coastal city that enjoys rainfall more than any part of the country. The likelihood of having rainwater is very high and that is our case. We need to plan our environment. Recently, I passed through Odunsi Street in the Bariga area of the state, which is about 200 years old, only to find out that it is just now that they are putting drainage system in place. Even places where there are drainages the maintenance is very poor because there is no maintenance structure in place. All the drainages are filled with sachet water bags, plastic bottles, sand and all manner of things. If there is no drainage system, water will definitely find its way. Where you have a drainage system that is not properly managed, it is as good as not having it at all. Sometimes, gutters are cleared and the debris still find their way back into the gutter because they were left just by the side.
In other countries, what comes first to any development is drainage and proper infrastructure before human beings begin to build, but here, there are no such considerations; there is no proper masterplan where drainages are constructed. There is supposed to be in place primary channel, secondary wall gutter servicing the neighbourhood, which finally drains into the canal. Look at the canals that are in front of the University of Lagos, it has been under construction for almost 10 years and these are supposed to be major drainages.
In the Netherlands, which is almost below sea level, they dig their drainage in such a way, that it pumps water out. We really need to have a sound drainage system in place, after looking at the topography and design plans.
Flash floods have occurred in Katsina, Ogun, and Rivers states of late leading to several deaths, destroyed buildings and claiming vehicles. Is there anything that rescue agencies would have done to stem the losses?
The truth is that technology has advanced that you can forecast or predict up to 100 per cent accuracy, the volume of rain that would fall, put people at alert, and evacuate them to a safe environment. Look at the floods recorded in Texas and some parts of United States, people were not just warned early, but were evacuated top a safe place pending when the disaster is over. So, there is least damage to lives and properties. Natural disasters are inevitable. Lagos State has a resettlement centre in a place called Agbowa, in Ikorodu where people can settle for sometime till the problem elapses. It is better to prepare for things like this, so that we will not be caught unawares.
The onset and peak of rainy season in the South is different from what obtains in the North, so why should states like Katsina and Niger be experiencing flash floods at this time of the year?
The fact is that there is climate change. What happened in Niger and Katsina states was unavoidable because of the climatic weather conditions, but lives and properties could have been protected if adequate measures were taken. Naturally, the North and South don’t experience the same climatic weather conditions, so nothing should meet us unawares because there is enough technology to predict the weather accurately, prepare the minds of people for what to expect, and until this is done, we will continue to have problems. We should stop deforesting and other such practices that are harzadous to the environment because when rain comes, the surface of the soil is washed away.
All over the country, there are meteorological centres, where temperatures and atmospheric conditions are measured and forecast made. So, we need to get things right in this country and put the right facilities in place.
The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) claimed that residents of the affected areas in Abeokuta ignored its awareness campaigns regarding the recent flooding. For how long can people continue to risk their lives discountenancing warnings?
In a nation where people cannot trust their government, this is the kind of things you see. That is human nature. Even when the government warned people of impending danger, did it provide any alternative? When it asked people to evacuate their homes the people remained adamant because they have nowhere to go to, thereby risking their lives in the process. It is not just warning people, but providing appropriate infrastructure where they can seek refuge.
Apart from heavy rainfall, lack of safety consciousness on the part of residents, who erect houses on flood plains are also contributing factors, are we enforcing municipal laws that kick against this well enough?
All these could be attributed to the failure of government to do the right thing. As far back as 1970, my grandmother had a building approval before she could build her three-room mud house in my village, near Ijebu Ode, Ogun State. In those days, nobody would build a house without getting approval from Ijebu Ode. How can anybody in his right senses be erecting a house on waterways or water channels? Where there is good governance, such should not be allowed. There are laws that say you must not erect until you have approval. That department in the Ministry of Physical Planning is called Development Control. They are to identify and monitor where there are illegal developments or construction. There are planning laws, but where the government is weak, the laws are violated. So, governments should not wait for people to build 20 storey buildings on waterways before they set out to demolish, but they should enforce laws and deploy technology to control development. The government should also make approval processes affordable and accessible for people. Having said that, people should be made to build according to plan, and not anyhow.
Why is it so difficult for residents to cooperate with governments and cease indiscriminate dumping of refuse in drainages, flood plains and canals?
There is nowhere in the world, where people cooperate with anybody. If people know that they will be punished for their wrong doings or evil ways, they will desist. If you see the white man obeying laws, it is because he is afraid of the penalty. Things should be done in an orderly manner. In developed countries, there are laws and cameras everywhere to capture culprits. In England, if you carry waste and drop indiscriminately, you will be fished out. I’ve seen policemen searching for address of people, who dump refuse indiscriminately and by the time, the person is slammed with a bill, he or she will think twice before doing it again.
The Nigerian Hydrological Service Agency (NHSA) had predicted an overflow of the Niger-Benue River Basin and other sub-basins, as well as, informed of the prospect of flooding in 32 states of the federation. Most of these states have done little or nothing to save the situation or guard against any eventualities. Isn’t this irresponsible?
The nation is going through its worse state. A nation that is supposed to be blessed and live in affluence is living in poverty because of corruption. A country that has lost it industrial revolution, cannot provide house for itself, feed itself, provide facilities and cannot pay salaries of federal staff because there is no remittance from the NNPC in a given month has failed. When a nation that has impoverished itself hears of money to do the necessary things, it won’t be able to do them because it is short of funds. How do you expect a state that cannot pay salaries to prepare for flood when there is no money to fix things? We should thank God that we don’t have natural disasters at the scale that they are happening in the United States, Australia and some other places or else Nigeria would have sank under flood and fire. Even our hospitals, there are no drugs. We have mortgaged the future of this country. Where there is corruption, people suffer.