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Floods 2022 Nigeria: Cameroon’s Lagdo dam is not the real issue, here is why the floods continue to be more devastating since 2012

By Guardian Nigeria
12 October 2022   |   12:04 am
There is a pulse article that explains why a dam in Cameroon causes devastating floods almost yearly since 2012. The question should really not be why the flood is happening, but why the floods continue to be more devastating since 2012. This article explains the why in five points and puts things in a sharper…

[FILES] Buildings submerged in Lokoja PHOTO: IBRAHIM OBANSA

There is a pulse article that explains why a dam in Cameroon causes devastating floods almost yearly since 2012. The question should really not be why the flood is happening, but why the floods continue to be more devastating since 2012. This article explains the why in five points and puts things in a sharper perspective, emphasizing the relevant areas of responsibility for government stakeholders and citizens.

1. Nigerians living in flood-prone areas are not aware that they should better organize and respond to these disasters while, all Nigerians should demand for themselves better crisis management of natural disasters: The State governments continue to earn revenue from the flood-affected areas, and State Governors and Federal agencies will never be questioned over their handling of the flood crisis. State governors are not even questioned over their inability to pay salaries which are already covered by Federal allocations in some states, less talk of flooding for which a convenient excuse is the lack of funding, the structure of response for natural disasters or blame-shifting to either NEMA or a dam in Cameroon.

In 2012 and 2013, there were no tenement waivers or tax rebates for the thousands of Nigerian properties or businesses affected by the 2012 floods, the states earned revenue from the flooded locations. Ordinary Nigerians are obviously the biggest losers, but also yet to realize that the burden of this loss is not evenly distributed among the State governments or Federal agencies who neither receive reprimand nor evaluation for their action or inaction. The Nigerians in flood-affected areas are not even entitled to any disaster recovery financial package. Nigeria in 2012 lost N2.6 trillion to the flood disaster, 7 million people were displaced, 597,476 houses were damaged and 363 were killed, with these numbers expected to increase by at least 45% in 2022 going by current indicators. This episode surely repeats itself after the 2022 floods with Nigerians to be charged tenements for the same property after the floods recede in 2023.

Nigerians living in the flood affected areas should secure their properties by investing in joint storage facilities to keep their property ahead of flood incidents, cooperatives and businesses should obtain insurance against force majeure. Not all Nigerians can simply move out of the affected areas.

2. States should be prevailed upon to stop allocating land in designated flood plains, maintain dredging and waste management efforts, and rethink incentives to invest more in flood mitigation efforts: Land allocation is clearly a State government responsibility, and the periodic nature of the floods (Before the 2012 floods, the last massive flooding was over 40 years ago) should not be an excuse for the greed by these administrators who choose revenue over the safety of their citizens.

Citizens who despite being informed early also choose to remain in the flood affected areas till the very last minute and by then it is too late, reasons often cited include the security of their property and lack of clarity regarding where to go. Conditions in the designated relief camps and coordination plans are not firmed up, leaving citizens to ignore camp settings and opt instead for living with families and friends in areas not affected by the flooding, further exacerbating the vulnerability limits of the entire population in the affected states. The Federal government can do more to protect lives and property by declaring a State of Emergency including using the military reserves or paramilitary formations to support and enforce evacuations.

Such evacuation measures could include temporary warehousing or mobile storage units to preserve infrastructure and could be funded by charging a percentage of the value of the commodity being stored. The Federal government should also explore its constitutional powers to address the ever-recurrent challenges of construction in floodplains and flood-prone areas to prevent land allocation by State governments. The Attorney General should consider available legal options and advise accordingly.

Flood resilience programmes have substantial cost implications, and there is yet to be a proper discussion on how best to fund them. In Ekiti, it cost billions of Naira to protect three of the at-risk LGAs, which moderated the impact of the recent flooding. However, such funding models are not sustainable. The current emphasis on State and local response to such disasters need to change and this change should be championed by the Federal government.

3. The Federal government bears a large portion of the responsibility to mitigate and respond to the national disaster, and should really just do so: The following practical measures need to be taken:-

a.) The Funding for natural disaster mitigation and response needs to change from its flawed approach: Under the prevailing revenue allocation formula, 2.32 percent of derivation funds is set aside for ecology and disaster management, out of this amount was a paltry sum of N336 billion in the first half 2022, which was not up to 1.6% of the N2.6 trillion damage caused by the 2012 floods. The 36 states and the FCT get 0.72 percent, and the 774 local governments get 0.6 percent, adding to 1.32 percent, leaving a balance of one percent to the government of the federation. NEMA takes 20 percent of the amount allocated to the Federal Government. The North East Development Commission, NEDC collects 10 percent, the National Agricultural Land Development Authority, NALDA 10 percent, and the National Agency for the Great Green Wall, GGW 0.5 percent, leaving 0.55 of one percent to the government at the center for ecological protection and disaster management. Herein lies the issue. Natural disaster management should be based on efficiency, and it would be dubious for instance to ask that the Green wall initiative, Nigeria’s line of defense against desert encroachment in the Sahara to be funded by all 36 states. The same principle needs to be applied to flood management and national disaster management planning. A Federal relief assistance fund mechanism jointly managed by the Federal and States with a funding formula should be put in place. This is not to be confused with ecological funds.

b.) States should be allowed to build, manage and benefit from physical flood prevention and mitigation infrastructure: The Federal government still maintains the responsibility and the bulk of the decisions regarding the provision and management of critical infrastructure including dams, waterways, power generation, and distribution. Read about the legal framework for independent power projects here. The downstream flood-affected States will definitely be incentivized to build a dam if they benefit from the power generation, job opportunities, and others provided by the dams they were to benefit directly from it. The climate impact is debatable given that these areas affected by flooding receive significant rainfall. However, the other range of issues associated with dam construction, in general, will remain. A Dam directly funded by the States could generate power, support irrigation and create jobs and earn revenue for the states.

c.) NEMA and the national disaster response and recovery mechanism is restructured along national disaster response priorities rather than geography, and should be properly decentralized: NEMA, as it is currently constituted, remains ineffective, likewise the SEMAs. The Funding for relief efforts is a recipe for disaster itself, especially where such funds could be put to adequate use before disasters occur. The concept of Federally Supported, State Managed, Locally Executed’ Disaster response and recovery is desirable but not yet feasible. An interim action plan to coordinate these efforts around Federal and State priorities should be developed with a transition plan for support to Local governments. Alternatively, pilot programmes targeting pots of funding for local governments with clear performance indicators demonstrate how local actions can work to improve resilience to flooding and coastal erosion similar to the State Fiscal Transparency, Accountability and Sustainability Programme for Result (SFTAS) could be explored.

4. Cameroon should be left out of the current conversation regarding the present flooding as advance notice was sent regarding the pending release of the floodwaters: Cameroon should not have built the dam, and that’s the only part where the Cameroonians take the blame. Nigeria implied being able to handle the flooding situation on their end but did not fulfill their end of the bargain by building the dam.

The Nigerian Government also receives an adequate warning about the dam being filled, save for 2018 when there was no ‘early’ notice.
Why didn’t Cameroon close the dam for longer?
The worst case scenario will have been a dam failure of which Nigerians will surely wish this never happened as it will surpass the largest dam disaster in recorded history. To compare, the failure of the Banqiao dam on the Ru River in China’s Zhumadian City in 1974 led to over 492 million cubic meters of water being emptied out in massive volumes and this resulted in over 171,000 deaths. The Cameroon Lagdo dam reservoir is 7,800 million cubic meters 63 times larger than the Banqiao dam.

5. It’s the climate, ….!
Annual estimates by The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) of expected floods using previous data and accounting for percentages remain insufficient for the type of climate change impact event which saw one-third of Pakistan underwater this year. Hence the best estimates will have still fallen short of whatever response was planned. NIWA gauge readers in Lokoja at the point of impact confirmed that the 2012 flood level was 12.84 meters, whereas that of 2022 is reading 13.22 meters, a 44% increase from the 2012 floods.

The responsibility to respond to climate shocks and their impact remains one for global conversations. The UN Climate Change Conference 2022 (UNFCCC COP 27) in Egypt is in November but the pessimism remains largely to be seen, especially as little to no progress has been made since COP22, however, Nigeria should lead the Global south coalition efforts to demand accountability from the global community, especially the Developed countries regarding their climate commitments.

Jubril Shittu is CEO of the Public and Private Development Center, PPDC, in Abuja. He contributed this article to help provide perspectives on the recent flooding for which hundreds of communities have been submerged in Delta, Anambra, Bayelsa, Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Kogi, Jigawa, Kano, Niger Sokoto States, amongst others with thousands of residents displaced and hectares of farmlands washed away. NEMA has warned that the 2022 flood disaster will be worse than that of 2012 when at least 363 people were killed and 7 million people were displaced by floods.