Floods call for containment, not relocation warning, By Chima Nwafo

Posted by News Express | 11 August 2019 | 556 times

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•Chima Nwafo

Flooding is one environmental disaster that affects all the 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, in diverse ways and, yet, there is no policy on its mitigation. But when disaster occurs, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other relief agencies like the Red Cross are expected to provide relief for victims, over which billions, ala Naija, are announced, but not much gets to the supposed beneficiaries. But until another disaster strikes, nothing is usually heard from FEMA about flash floods, which is more prevalent in the country or flooding of coastal areas when rivers overflow their banks.

Currently, echoes of flooding filter from concerned Representatives at the National Assembly and state officials who warn residents in flood-prone areas to vacate their homes. Again, in its yearly ritual of flood alarms, the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA), at a media briefing on Wednesday August 7, warned that the worst days of flooding are still ahead, as usual picking out some states as being under threat. But such warnings are not new.

According to the Daily Trust of July 16, “the Director-General of the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, Engr Clement Nze, at a recent Sensitisation Workshop on 2019 flood prediction, prevention and mitigation in hydrological areas in Birnin-Kebbi, sought urgent evacuation of people living in the affected states. Nze listed several councils in Sokoto that are flood prone, while in Zamfara, Birnin-Magaji, Kiyawa, Bakura, Bungudu, Shinkafi, Gusau, Kaura Namoda and Maradun are probable flood-risk councils.” He added that in Niger State, Agwara, Magama council areas, as well as Musawa and Katsina councils of Katsina State would experience floods.
“We implore the states and stakeholders to relocate people living along waterways, as well as those having socio-economic activities on the flood plains. States and local governments are encouraged to embark on clearing their river channels, canals and drainages to allow for free flow of run-off waters, and construct buffer zones in their respective constituencies to collect run-off waters.”  

The NIHSA’s warning was sequel to recent ugly flooding experiences in parts of the North and Okpoko community in Ogbaru Local Government Area of Anambra State, where flood destroyed 300 houses, rendering 2,000 residents homeless.

Earlier in 2016, NIHSA also warned of flooding in 14 states, urging residents living in flood-prone areas of the states to relocate. During a presentation event, then Director-General, Mr. Moses Beckley, in what he tagged 2016 Annual Flood Outlook, in Abuja, “warned that this year’s flooding would be higher than the one experienced in 2015.”

In the typical Nigerian style of public service, the people were counselled by the relevant government agency to vacate their homes and, perhaps, become voluntary Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs). A recent warning by the Delta State government was also to that effect: Those in flood-prone areas should relocate. No one cares about the economic and socio-cultural costs. It is also important to note that Ogun State was not among the states mentioned in both the previous and current warnings of the NIHSA cautions. Yet, in the South West Magazine of the same Daily Sun of August 8, there was the pathetic report of a N300 million Eriwe Fish Farm, Ijebu Ode, Ogun State – rated the largest in the country with over 500 farmers and 150 ponds - being washed away by flood.      

On its part, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency publishes a “Drought and Flood Monitoring Bulletin”, which in both design and content is of little attraction to the most uninformed seeker of information. It has a drab and repetitive editorial style, sa exemplified in its monthly bulletin. Take this from its Outlook For July2018 to June 2019: “The cumulative rainfall analysis for groundwater monitoring indicated above normal rainfall in the last six months over parts of northern Yobe, Bauchi, Plateau, Adamawa, Nasarawa, Benue, Gombe, Ogun, Lagos, Edo, Delta, Anambra and Cross River States, causing these locations to record mild-to-extreme wetness. This situation however, favours ground-water recharge in the affected areas.”

And for its January to July 2019 report: “Due to the continuous northward movement of the ITD in July, rainfall activities are expected to increase over the northern part of the country, while the little dry spell (LDS) is expected over parts of the south. As a result of the observations presented in the maps, dam managers, reservoir operators and other relevant actors are advised to look out for the impacts of flows, recharges and discharges, with probable risk of run-off over northern part of Yobe, etc.” The same states were repeated. For anyone familiar with NIMET weather report, the foregoing captures their house style and mode of presentation. 

Available data shows that Nigeria is ravaged by rain floods every year due to unplanned urban centres, unkept dirty surroundings, lack of drainages, among other man-made activities. Given this reality of our circumstance, it boggles the mind why all the relevant agencies do is to repeat the stale and unhelpful warnings monthly and annually. NIHSA wants us to believe that vacating one’s home without any provision or clearing the overgrown canals are ways to mitigate flood. And how could these warnings mitigate flood incidents or compensate the Ijebu Ode fish farmers for the millions of naira loss?

Yet, in 2012, we experienced what was described as the worst flood in 40 years. The losses in human and material costs were monumental. President Goodluck Jonathan called it a “National disaster” and reportedly released N17.6 billion to various states and agencies for damage response, flood relief and rehabilitation. Only God knows how much of that whopping amount reached the victims. From media reports, “the 2012 Nigeria floods killed 363 people and displaced over 2.1 million people; 30 of the 36 states were affected. The floods were termed as the worst in 40 years, and affected an estimated 7 million people. The estimated damages and losses caused by the floods were worth N2.6 trillion.”

Again, since the 2012 unprecedented flood, what steps has the government taken to mitigate future damage, aware of the fact that flood is a recurring decimal in Nigeria.

 Floods happen everywhere, including the highly developed countries of Europe and America. For example, soldiers were reported to have been drafted to help clean up parts of Yorkshire Dales in Britain, after flash flooding wiped out roads and caused devastation. But the difference is in the way it is managed, with a view to mitigating its impact on the people and environment.

 The US suffers from various forms of flooding. But it confronts same problem more holistically. “The National Climate Assessment summarises the impacts of climate change on the United States, now and in the future. A team of more than 300 experts guided by a 60-member Federal Advisory Committee produced the report, which was extensively reviewed by the public and experts, including federal agencies and a panel of the National Academy of Sciences. Changes in river flooding can be caused by changes in atmospheric conditions, land use/land cover (e.g., agricultural practices, urbanisation), and water management (for example, dams, diversions, and levees). These changes can occur in tandem and make it difficult to determine the relative importance of each factor as drivers of observed changes in river flooding behaviour.”

It is time for Nigeria to rise beyond reactive approach to serious issues of disaster, throwing money at problems and counting losses while relevant agencies do next to nothing about solutions to such challenges. Government has failed to inform Nigerians about the true risks of flooding. There’s uncertainty, and the human cost is high. Predicting rainfall and weather outlooks and flood warnings to coastal zones cannot in any way mitigate the problem. Proactive measures are necessary.


Nwafo, Consulting Editor, News Express/Environmental Analyst, can be reached on:chi_dafo@yahoo.com; 08029334754.

Source: News Express

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