Friday, October 5, 2012

Nigeria, Ravaged by Flood

In the face of the ongoing flooding tragedy in many parts of the country, Sulaimon Olanrewaju provides an insight into the tragedy and the efforts made to contain it.
IT was a foretold disaster which could have been mitigated had the warning been heeded and immediate remedial steps taken. But because the prediction was ignored and the suggested precautionary steps discountenanced, the foretold monstrous flooding came and left in its trail death, destruction and depression. At the last count, according to the Red Cross, at least 148 people have been killed by floods in different parts of the country, over 64,000 have been rendered homeless while millions have been plunged deeper into poverty.

On Saturday August 4, 2012, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), in a press statement signed by its Public Relations Officer, Eleazar Obende, alerted the nation to the impeding “above normal” rainfall which might result in devastating flooding incidents in 12 states of the federation.

NIMET said that it had observed a “wetter-than-normal soil surface moisture and groundwater conditions in some parts of the country over the past 12 months”, adding that the effect of this would be “prospects of the occurrence of above-normal rainfall which may lead to surface run-off. The flooding incidents that may accompany high rainfall events in and around Lagos, Ogun, Delta, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Gombe, Kano, Katsina and Jigawa states will leave in its trail devastation and destruction reminiscent of similar incidents recorded in some parts of the country some months ago.”

The agency, therefore, appealed to the states to clear all water channels to reduce the effect of the predicted flooding.
NIMET also informed the nation that River Niger would overflow its bank, adding that this posed a serious threat to those living close to the river’s plain. The agency warned of the risk of unprecedented flooding of the River Niger plains due to water from the Kainji and Jebba hydro dams. As a follow up on the prediction of NIMET, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) issued an immediate evacuation order to residents along the plains of the River Niger. It also impressed it on state governments to move communities along the plains of the river to higher grounds.

Reactions to the prediction
According to Mallam Yushau Shuaib, Head Public relations, NEMA, his agency, after the prediction by NIMET intimated state governments with the forecast and its implications to the people. However, despite being told of the looming danger, many state governments were either too confused to act immediately on the matter or chose to look away from the impending problem until they were confronted with it. Many of them even failed to inform their citizens of the imminent danger. So, they failed to take preventative steps and are forced to embark on emergency measures.

Even the residents, those who got to know about the prediction, rather than act on the information they had, opted to continue with their lives as if what they were told did not matter. Some even resorted to fasting and praying to ward off the flooding.

“Some were offering sacrifices to the rivers, they believed that their sacrifices would stop the rivers from overflowing,” said Shuaib.

The effect of these was that in many states, both the government and the people were caught napping. Hence, the devastation was massive and crippling.

According to Dr Ebenezer Alade, Coordinator, Association for Better Environment (ABE), the federal and state governments should have immediately swung into action on getting to know about the prediction of the agencies.

“One of our major problems in this country is our failure to leverage on science and technology to combat environmental challenges. Everyone knows that all over the world, the climate is changing. So, it is foolhardy to expect that the weather this year will follow the pattern of last year.
The climate keeps changing and the responsibility of the government and the people is to prepare for these changes, especially when, with the help of modern technology, we are able to forecast looming problems. Immediately the prediction was made, the government should have swung into action to free the drainage and the water channels to allow for free flow of water. All the rivers should have been dredged to reduce the possibility of flooding. Those living in river plains should have been moved to higher grounds. If all these had been done, the flooding would have happened but the devastation would have been minimal,” he said.

The ABE coordinator added that the governments should take a cue from advanced countries which were deploying technology to minimise the destructive tendencies of climate change on their people.

“Science and technologies are a means of improving our lives and it is high time we began to make use of these. If the government would spend a fortune to set up and fund agencies to monitor the climate and to advise it on this, why would the same government fail to take the advice of these agencies? So, we need to have a change of disposition to reports by specialised bodies so that we can get the best out of science and technology,” Alade added.

Shuaib agreed with Alade that climate change was mainly responsible for the excessive flooding.

He said the flooding in some parts of the country such as Lagos and Ibadan was caused by excess rain occasioned by climate change.

“Climate change is primarily responsible for the flooding,” Shuaib said. “If not why should a place like Jigawa which is very close to Republic of Niger, an arid land be experiencing flooding?”

He added that the heavy rains caused River Niger to overflow right from its roots which resulted in a spill that caused extensive damage in different parts of the country.

Shuaib continued, “With River Niger overflowing, some dams also overflowed and if not for the steps taken by the authorities, the result would have been more devastating. With the dams filled, it would be dangerous to leave them like that, so the authorities came up with a systematic way of discharging the water because they cannot afford to let the dams break. Water from both Shiroro and Kainji dams had to be discharged and that was partly responsible for the flooding in Kogi State. We knew this was going to happen. Hence, our call to people to vacate the river plains but many people chose to ignore the call.”

He added that the same thing happened in Adamawa State where the opening of a Cameroonian dam caused flooding which resulted in the death of a number of people.     

“We had to agree to the gradual release of water from the dam because if we have to wait for the dam to collapse, given its speed of 120km per hour, nobody can say what the extent of the damage would be. We only insisted that the Cameroonian authorities should inform us before releasing water from the lake,” Shuaib said.  

Effects of flooding
With the ‘business as usual’ posture of the government and the people, the floods came with not much in place to counter their ferocious onslaught. From Lagos to Calabar, Lokoja to Sokoto, the rains descended with seeming bottled up anger followed by devastating flooding.

Last Thursday, Lagos experienced over eight hours of rain which almost submerged areas such as Okota, Isolo, Jakande Estate, Ijora, Lekki, Victoria Island and some parts of Ikeja. The long hours of heavy flooding did not only shut many residents of the state in, it also shut many out as it resulted in long traffic snarl since many roads such as the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway were almost completely cut off by the flood. 

However, although the waters swept away some vehicles and other valuables, the flooding did not record any loss of life but that was not the experience in June when excessive downpour caused the bridge linking Lagos and Ogun states at Ayobo, in Ayobo/Ipaja Local Council Development Area to submerge with six adults and a child reportedly carried away while attempting to cross from Ogun to Lagos State. The effect of flooding in Kano has been worse as no fewer than 19 persons were confirmed, many others injured and more than more than 15, 000 people displaced as a result of flooding in the state between August and September.

In Zamfara State more than 50 persons lost their lives in various flood and windstorm disasters in the state this year alone, while a minimum of 50 people also died in Jos flooding. That has been the pattern across the country with no state spared of the debilitating consequences of the flooding. The number of people that have been displaced this year alone is a cause for concern.

Impending food shortage
Apart from destroying dwelling and religious places, flooding has also destroyed a sizeable portion of farmlands in the country so much that the Federal Government had to raise the alarm about the possibility of food shortage.

While addressing State House correspondents at the end of a Federal Executive Council meeting recently, Minister of Environment, Hajia Hadiza Mailafia, revealed that over 5,000 farmlands had been destroyed by the ravaging floods across the country.

According to her, “the consequences of the floods are that there are huge losses of farmlands, there are likely threats to food security, we are likely going to have challenges that have to do with the health of the people in some areas. The flooding we are experiencing in the country do not in any way fall into what you can term man made. This is a natural phenomenon that cuts across the globe. With the technology in places like the United States, they still had the flooding there, in China and even our neighbour Niger with an arid land.

“For anyone to think that government has not done well or that there was something that we needed to do that we have not done is a little bit awesome because there is a limit to which you can fight nature. When you have in a country where well over 5,000 farmlands washed away, then there is cause for attention. It is of national interest. So, all what we are saying is that it is a national emergency. It calls for sober reflection.”

With farmlands destroyed and farmers displaced, food supply challenge has never been scarier.

Health hazard
With flooding usually comes water-borne diseases and the Red Cross has warned of the possibility of an outbreak of cholera. Throwing light on the possibility of the outbreak of cholera, Dr Austin Abel said the unhygienic attitude of many Nigerians coupled with the flooding would put them at the risk of cholera.

Abel, Medical Director of Sunshine Infirmary, explained that “the country is being flooded and the probability is that the source of water consumed by many of our compatriots would be polluted and this would definitely result in cholera and other water-borne diseases.”

He added that the effect of the pollution would have been minimal if the people were ordinarily hygienic “but you and I know that many of our people, especially in the rural areas, have little respect for hygiene and this is why there is likely going to be an outbreak of cholera unless the government moves in to arrest the trend.”

He thereafter called on the government to move in and save the rural poor and those displaced by the floods and in camps from the scourge of cholera by providing them with hygienic environment which would help them to ward off cholera.

“If we do not manage the matter very well, we are likely going to have a situation in which there will be more deaths from the after effect of flooding than from flooding itself,” Abel said.

Collapse of infrastructure
A huge chunk of the nation’s infrastructure is affected by the floods. Currently, the Lokoja-Abuja highway has collapsed. Many communities have had their electricity supply cut off as a result of floods which washed away electricity poles and cables. A number of masts belonging to telecommunication organisations have also been destroyed. Many school buildings, bridges and roads have also been washed away by the flood.

State governments have been crying out that the extent of the devastation in their state is beyond what they can cope with and have been calling for the intervention of the Federal Government as well as philanthropists.

Hundreds of thousands of Nigerians have been displaced consequent on the flooding. The effect of this is that many of them will not be able to earn any decent income as they are majorly camped in facilities provided by the government far away from their places of abode. It means the displacement precipitated by the flooding will worsen the poverty situation in the country. With over 90 per cent of the nation’s population said to be currently living on less than two dollars a day.

It also means that the poverty reduction programme of the government will suffer a setback as resources will have to be diverted to fixing destroyed infrastructure rather than for empowering the citizens.

Commenting on this, Alade said “There is a link between the environment and poverty. There is no doubt that those who have been displaced by the flood cannot earn any income and they now have to depend on charity. But that is not the end of the story. What happens to their children’s education? It also means that their education would be stunted for as long as they remain on camp. For me, the only consolation will be if the government learns from this experience and works out a means of countering a repeat.”

By Sulaimon

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