By Enyichukwu Enemanna
Our dear nation has again come under the heavy weight of flood disaster, of humongous magnitude, stoking emotions and resonating legions of underlying pains which the people have for a long time incubated, arising from societal-infested frustrations. This is coming exactly ten years after the country witnessed a similar disaster estimated to have caused losses put at US$16.9 billion.
During the 2012 flooding in which rivers burst their banks, vast lands in 30 states were submerged, 400 people killed and 1.3 million others displaced. According to the UN, in 2019 also, more than 200,000 people were affected by floods while about 158 died.
Here we are again, in deeper trouble than we were years ago. This is despite the comprehensive post-disaster needs assessment conducted in 2012 by the federal government with international collaboration. It raises questions on the political will to achieve this goal. We are a country so good in setting up investigative panels whose report usually end up in the bin.
This is undoubtedly a difficult time to be a Nigerian. The indicators across the country point to the fact that the people are neck-deep into protracted economic woes amidst uncontrolled inflation, insecurity, which has held the country by the jugular in the past couple of years, leading to incessant abductions and kidnapping for ransom, ethno-religious divisions, political tension, job losses, poor infrastructure, dwindling economy and fading hope.
A lot more people are hungrier and poorer than they were in 2012. A lot more people are under-employed or totally unemployed than in 2012 and all across the country, the inscriptions of frustration and despondency are boldly written on the people’s face.
According to the federal government through the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, as at October 16, 2022, no fewer than 603 persons have lost their lives arising from the flood disaster this year, while the number of those displaced was put at 1,302,589 persons and over 108,393 hectares of farmlands across the country destroyed. That is not all, the minister overseeing the ministry, Hajiya Sadiya Umar-Farouq, gave the number of injured persons as 2,407, partially damaged 121,318 houses, totally damaged 82,053 houses, and totally damaged 332,327 hectares of farmlands, all happening in our dear country.
This should really get those in authority concerned, including governors of states like Anambra, Cross Rivers, Rivers, Delta, Bayelsa, Adamawa, Gombe, Jigawa, parts of Kaduna, Kogi, Niger, Benue, Nasarawa, etc. where farmers suffered huge losses and where more deaths were recorded.
Disturbingly, as typical of the Muhammadu Buhari-led federal government, it has engaged in finger-pointing and blame game rather than decisive action to bring the flood disaster under control. The federal government has accused the Cameroon authorities of breaching the agreement reached on the release of water from the Lagdo Dam in Cameroon which it says is responsible for the recent flooding.
Lagdo Dam provides electricity, portable water and irrigates farmlands in northern Cameroon but the release of excess water from the facility usually leads to flooding in Nigerian communities on the banks of rivers Benue and Niger down to the Atlantic Ocean. Apart from that, the federal government has also accused state governors of not doing enough to checkmate the disaster in their various domains.
Whether the authorities in Cameroon are guilty of the Nigerian government’s allegation or not, what is more paramount is the fact that the flood cannot be totally extricated from the unusually heavy rainfall resulting from climate change. A recent study by World Weather Attribution, an international collaboration among scientists indicate that extreme rainfall patterns are a consequence of climate change. What that implies is that warmer temperatures cause more evaporation, making both droughts and floods more common. Countries around the world have experienced both this year. The droughts that parched North America, Europe and China this summer were made 20 times more likely because of climate change. Even African countries, such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Uganda and Sudan have all had their fair share of drought.
It is not a period to scavange where to lay the blame. We have a challenge in our hand which from all indications could further raise questions of food security and inflation. The farmlands that have been washed away will put more strain on our already worrisome food shortage.
A lot of farmers have been dislodged from their ancestral homes as a result of insecurity and we have this on our hand. It is interesting that the state governors usually smile home with ecological funds after each round of Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) meeting but much of the impact has not been seen across the states as erosion remains a big threat. These funds should be properly and judiciously be channeled towards the purposes they are meant for.
At the moment, there is no appropriate action to mitigate flooding in our country. There is no flood management policy in Nigeria. The lack of relevant legal and policy frameworks is an indication of the low importance given to controlling and managing flooding in the country. Integration of flood risk management with spatial planning is the way to go.
Historically, our country has been more focused on post-disaster flood response than taking measures to tackle them before they happen. Reducing and addressing exposure to flood risk should be a national priority in the government’s disaster risk management agenda.
Our country is blessed with the needed manpower in terms of research institutions and agencies with the skills to design a flood risk management strategy. For instance, the National Emergency Management Agency has a department of planning utilising geographical information system to work on flood data. Still, there are no effective national early warning system in place for floods at the federal, state, and local governments. The Nigerian Meteorological Agency, on its part provides seasonal rainfall predictions, but communication remains a problem. Integration and coordination are lacking among the existing government bodies who sometimes carry out flood control projects without liaising with each other.
Sustainable urban planning and green infrastructure could also be combined with information and communication technology tools. Indiscriminate erection of structures should be totally discouraged as it sometimes blocks the water channels. Citizens can use these to communicate with the relevant authorities at the onset of flooding.
It is laudable the federal and state governments have activated measures to evacuate the victims with the provision of relief materials but these are not enough. Addressing Nigeria’s perennial flooding is important for the country to make economic and social progress.
Enemanna, an Abuja-based journalist writes from email@example.com