The heavy downpour which caused massive flooding across the country, leaving hundreds of people dead and property worth millions of naira destroyed, has again brought to the fore ecological and environmental problems facing Nigeria. LINUS OOTA examines the challenges
Flood contributes to most natural disasters in the world. Nigeria is one of the highly flood-prone countries and can cause damages to houses, industries, public utilities and properties resulting in huge economic losses, apart from loss of lives.
Nigeria has lost thousands of lives and properties worth billions of naira to flood disasters in recent times and it occurs due to natural phenomena, such as excessive rain, overflowing of river banks etc.
It can also be caused by human negligence on the part of individuals like bad construction of structures on waterways, dumping of refuse in the drainages, disregard of professionalism in building constructions, among others.
Early this year, The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the agency saddled with the responsibility of coordinating resources towards effective and efficient disaster management, warned that the Nigeria Metrological Agency has alerted that there would be irregular flooding in parts of the country especially the coastal and revering areas this rainy season.
According to NEMA, there would be from 1200mm –2700mm in the south and 300mm to 1100mm in the northern parts of the country, which may lead to high surface runoff and flash flooding.
Over the years, NEMA has reaffirmed its commitment in disaster risk reduction (DRR) action plan, strengthening every of its preventive mechanisms as the agency has intensified its public education and enlightenment programmes, sensitisation and awareness campaigns on disaster prevention and mitigation across the country.
In response to these, NEMA north west zonal office, spearheaded by the acting zonal coordinator, Alhaji Musa Ilallah, which is mandated with the herculean task of prompt intervention and response to disaster across the seven states of the zone, (Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Jigawa, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi), embarked on relentless sensitisation and awareness campaign to avert the anticipated hazards.
Speaking to Blueprint recently, Musa Ilallah who is the director, erosion, flood and coastal zone management at the federal ministry of environment has said that the number of casualties from the flood ravaging various parts of the country can be drastically reduced if Nigerians adhere to the periodic alert sent out by the ministry.
He said that the ministry has in place a web-based, flood early warning system, (WEBFEWS) that generates data on flood possibilities in various parts of the country. “As soon as this is data are generated, we send messages to various government agencies and organizations in the areas predicted to be affected.
“We communicate with the state commissioners of environment on the need for them to communicate the information to those living in the areas to be affected” he said
According to him, the data generated from the WEBFEWS provide for at least six days before the prediction may occur, adding that the gap was enough for governments at the state and local levels to initiate proactive measures to inform the inhabitants of places to be affected.
On the recent flood incidents in Jos, the director noted that the department issued an alert predicting the flood. “The alerts we issued are probabilities; it may happen and it may not happen but it serve as notice to those in position to make arrangements to relocate or inform the citizens of the impending dangers,” he said.
Alhaji Musa Ilallah said that the flood that killed several persons in Jos was as a result of river over flooding. Nigerians are warned to avoid building house on flood plains and river channels.
He stressed that the dissemination of the alert from the department was not as effective as expected, pointing out that information made available to agencies and states on an impending flood should be highly publicised to enable those living in such areas to quickly relocate. He urged state governments to scale up enlightenment campaigns on the dangers of building on flood pains and blocking drainages as the rainy season continues unabated.
The devastating floods that ravaged Lagos and Ibadan recently have demonstrated the inability of our governments to deal with emergencies such as these. Lagos was struck by the menace after a heavy downpour that lasted for about 16 hours.
The floods that came with the torrential rainfall submerged most parts of the state. Consequently, lives were lost and property worth hundreds of millions of Naira was destroyed. The situation caught the Lagos State Government unawares and it could not do much to salvage it.
While the cost of the Lagos floods was still being counted, the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) forecast that Lagos would most likely witness a heavier rainfall. The warning was a clarion call on concerned bodies and authorities to wake up and face the challenges that would likely come with the rains.
But while Lagos was fretting over the imminence of another destructive flood, Ibadan, the Oyo State capital, fell prey to the menace. The city witnessed a torrential rainfall of immense proportions. The flood that it occasioned, according to the Red Cross, left about 102 people dead with about 1,500 others displaced. Many suffered injuries and property worth billions of naira were lost.
As was the case in the Lagos incident, the Oyo State government was caught napping. It could not effectively contain the ravages of the flood. Significantly, NIMET has issued a similar flood alert on Bauchi, Calabar and Ibadan. According to the agency’s seasonal rainfall predictions, these cities are likely to experience floods from heavy rain expected in September and October.
Also speaking on the incessant floods in the country, Mr. Ewah Eleri the executive director, International Center for Energy, Environment and Development (ICEED) a non-governmental organization said that Nigeria has lost assets worth N300 billion this year to flood disasters, according to ICEED.
Eleri said the assets included houses, roads, bridges, farmlands and crops, among others “Nigeria has lost assets worth N300 billion which is equivalent to 2 percent of the GDP to flood across the country this year alone. This is apart from the loss of many Nigerians which cannot be measured in monetary value” he said.
In order to curtail the devastating effects of floods, Eleri underscored the need for President Goodluck Jonathan to sign the National Climate Change Commission Bill into law. The bill, he stated, would help to address some of the environmental problems in the country caused by climate change, including flooding.
Speaking on the preventive measures, the director general, NEMA, Alhaji Muhammad Sani Sidi said there are preventive measures one can do to lessen or control the damage and to protect his homes from flood disasters.
According to him, it is poor judgment for communities that are extremely vulnerable to wait for authorities to provide answers to all the flood threats. Without waiting for NEMA and other relevant stakeholders, communities can avert flood disaster by taking preventive measures, They can organise themselves to open up blocked river channels and waterways.
If the threat is from dams, concerned authorities should give timely or even mandatory evacuation notices to host communities, who should be provided with alternative shelter pending when the problem is solved.
NEMA identified the remote causes of flood to include construction on waterways, constant indiscriminate dumping of refuse in drainages especially polythene bags and non-distilling of drainages which led to blockage of waterways is one of associated risk factors in floods.
“There is also the need to improve upon town and regional planning methods, while government must ensure that structures are not erected on water channels. Another cause of flooding is poor cultivation pattern in overused farmlands. When farmlands are overused, they lose their capacity to contain the weakest threat by flood.
“The indiscriminate cutting down of trees is also a major associated risk factor, which does not only lead to flood but also prepares the soil on a perfect path to gully erosion.
“Dam breakage due to improper maintenance can also lead to undue over-flooding of the banks, with consequence on the host communities,” he said
He posited further that authorities at the state and local governments, through relevant stakeholders, need to establish and support their populace in complementing the efforts of NEMA.
The Grassroots Emergency Volunteer Corps (GEVC), NEMA/NYSC Emergency Management Volunteer Corps (EMV) and DRR Clubs in secondary schools are programmes designed by the agency to reduced vulnerability in respective communities.
Disaster prevention and management should be seen as everybody’s business public and private sector workers should imbibe this principle. The prevention of disasters is certainly more desirable than the provision of relief assistance, as NEMA is not a recompense agency but rather provide relief support to victims of disasters.
Filed Under: Environment