In search of strategic solution to flash erosion and flood disasters?

Posted by Chima Nwafo | 30 November 2019 | 1,614 times

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•Gully erosion site

 In a tradition of aiming east while travelling west, President Muhammadu Buhari further increased the cost of governance by raising the number of cabinet ministers with the creation of a Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development. But on assumption of office in 2015, he had pledged to reduce the cost of governance. Besides, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), with operational offices in the 36 states and Federal Capital Territory, Abuja, had the mandate to perform the functions of the new ministry.

During the rains, most states across the federation were whacked by the demon of flood, caused by a combination of natural factors and human neglect. But a close examination confirms that the bulk of the problem is attributable to the failure of relevant government agencies to carry out their functions efficiently. The volume and persistence of rainfall this year exposed the weaknesses of poor planning, abandoned road projects, absence of drainages, and contempt for civilised approach to urban development. Beautiful houses in million-naira estates, particularly in Lagos and Ogun states, were abandoned due to flooding, while whole communities were sacked in Niger, Taraba, Yobe, Anambra, Delta, Bayelsa, among other states. In most cases, these were not first-time experiences but a spike in magnitude.

And true to type, the reactions have been similar: Vacate the estates till water dries up and provide food and medical supplies to victims and camp them in the internally displaced persons’ camps (IDPs). Case closed till the next rainy season, believing it won’t be as bad.

Leading the federal team to present relief items to victims of flood in Gashua Local Government of Yobe State, the Director-General of NEMA, Engr Mustapha Y Maihaja, said the agency has a duty to confront and mitigate floods. Good talk! But a few days after the visit, Channels Television reported that 100 houses were currently threatened by flooding in Yobe, as the rains continue. According to a spokesperson, the flooding problem dates back to 1987, recounting their appeals to the local government authorities. Earlier in September, the NEMA DG visited Anambra State “on a flood assessment tour to ascertain the level of damage caused by the recent 2019 flood”, adding that he had received several signals of flood disasters from Anambra State and, therefore, decided to pay a visit to the state “to have first-hand knowledge of the situation.”

The DG had also visited several other states for the same purpose of visual assessment and ceremonial announcement of concern and expected actions. But there it ends, or so it seems. During the visit to Anambra, the Chairman of Ogbaru Local Government Area, Arinze Awogu, did well to explain that being a coastal area, the LG has been “one of the worst-hit in Nigeria each time the RIVER OVERFLOWS ITS BANKS.”

But according to News Express, the Anambra State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) has kicked off assessment of communities affected by flood disasters in the state to ascertain water level. Giving insight to the programme, the Executive Director of SEMA, Captain Agupugo, represented by the executive assistant to the state on SEMA, Mr Emeka Obinez, said that with the rising water level, more victims had been moved to holding centres. He explained that most of the areas visited which included farmlands, churches, houses and schools have been completely submerged, adding:  “School children have been displaced and in some upland areas, children from different schools are merged and taught together. It is a sad, sad story; the situation is really treacherous and devastating because most of these people now do their daily activities on water.”

One of the flood victims, Mrs Ebele Nwachukwu, appealed to the state government to provide them with more food items, lamenting that their children were dying of hunger and starvation. “Our children no longer go to school because a child here in the holding centre was almost carried away by floodwaters on his way from school.”

The UNICEF, in a recent report, stated that last month flash flooding struck in the Northern states of Adamawa, Borno and Yobe, affecting IDP camps and host communities. “But to complicate matters, Adamawa State was coping with an ongoing cholera outbreak in four local government areas before the flooding began, with 674 cases, including four deaths, reported since August 23. Now, the torrential rains and flash flooding have hindered some of the response efforts.”

It equally drew attention to the situation in Borno State where “torrential rains and flash floods affected an estimated 6, 742 households in IDP camps and wiped out some of the water, sanitation and hygiene facilities, further increasing the likelihood of a cholera outbreak.”

The UN agency recalled that in 2018, more than 1.9 million persons were affected by floods across 12 states in Nigeria, and that more than half a million of them were displaced from their homes.

But given that federal response to flood victims in selected places has always been food and medical supplies, how does the delivery of such items mitigate or confront floods or disasters?

True to type, the Federal Government’s sympathy with victims of the flood that ravaged parts of Adamawa a few weeks ago was expressed with bags of rice and other food items. But before then, some citizens of the area had pointed to the Mambila project and other contributors to the perennial flood. The Federal Government delegation was led by Hajiya Sadiya Umar Farouq, Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, who delivered the items to Jalingo. This confirms the concern of pundits that Nigerian governments revel in short-term handouts rather than providing long-term solutions, because political interests are easily served by cash/material donations.

 The magnitude of suffering confirms beyond an iota of doubt that setting up a ministry of humanitarian services – which usually delivers to politically favoured targets and gathering people at the IDP camps – is not the way out, just as the establishment of flood warning systems and visitation to flood-prone zones offers no solution to the perennial menace.

Do the government and its agencies at federal and state levels have plans to build embankment along the flooding coasts of River Niger, given the complaints of victims from Ogbaru and Ugheli? Specifically, a spokeswoman from Taraba State told Channels TV that the impression from the government that the problem is beyond what the state or federal government can handle is not correct. To her, “the dredging of River Benue is the solution to floods in Adamawa.” One hopes someone is listening!

Oyo State has a history of Ogunpa flood dating back to 1960; with a devastating impact during the 1980 floods, gulping N10 billion in 1999, and still threatening. But the incumbent Governor Seyi Makinde, recently inaugurated a steering committee: “Ibadan Urban Flood Management Project (IUFMP),” a World Bank project aimed at tackling the flood risk propensity of Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.

World Bank’s involvement in this project is not of much significance, given that several states of the federation, including the robustly wealthy “Centre of Excellence”, are indebted to the Breton Woods institution on projects that are now abandoned, despite their developmental and economic value which warranted their initiation. The headship of the project committee by the governor is notable. That is, he is ready to answer questions about the progress, digress or regress of the project – both now and in future. That is taking his commitment beyond rhetoric. Besides, acting as a skilled private-sector manager, he made two more important decisions. First, in his absence, an executive with good knowledge of the state’s funding capability, the Commissioner for Finance, presides over deliberations. Second, he involved all the relevant heads of ministries departments and agencies as members of the steering committee.

The Project Coordinator of IUFMP, Mr Dayo Ayorinde, added: “Right now, the state government is trying to review the project and include solid waste management in the project.” This should not have been left out in the first place.

The above scenario confirms the wisdom in the mandate of the United States Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which only steps in to help states facing disasters and emergencies on invitation, except where the incident occurs in a federal institution located in a state. And now rather than the Federal Government releasing more funds with additional responsibilities to states, to enable them confront disasters, flash flooding and gully erosion directly, it has created a Ministry with a view to overseeing NEMA and warehousing more funds and donations in its coffers.

Against this backdrop, Makinde’s initiative is laudable even though it is in its embryonic stage, because the Federal Government seems so clueless on strategy and structural approach to this environmental nuisance. The businessman-turned politician also sets a good example for other gully erosion and flood-ravaged states and the number is large.

•Nwafo, Consulting Editor, News Express and Environmental Analyst, can be reached on s +2348029334754.   

Source: News Express

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