The rains are coming and, once again, we may suffer for it.
In the vibrant city of Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, there are about 21 million people of different ethnic backgrounds and countries who call this land home.
Lagos is the smallest in area of Nigeria’s 36 states, yet arguably the most economically important state of the country and a major financial centre. The metropolis is a port, which originated on islands separated by creeks, such as Lagos Island, fringing the southwest mouth of Lagos Lagoon, while protected from the Atlantic Ocean by barrier islands and long sand spits such as Bar Beach, which stretch up to 100 kilometers (62 miles) east and west of the mouth.
In more recent times, Lagos has come to be known for its highbrow areas that boast of western living and luxury like Banana Island, Parkview Estate, both based in Ikoyi, a good part of Victoria Island, Lekki peninsula and more. Properties in these choice locations have the privilege of even overlooking the ocean (if you can ignore the color and smell) and enjoying first-hand the sea breeze on a cool afternoon. Unfortunately, these so-called highbrow areas share one unique feature: they have all settled below the sea level due to massive development and construction that has taken place in the last 50 years.
The implication of this is that Lagos and its choicest areas are more vulnerable than ever to ocean surges and massive flooding, thanks to man’s desire to destroy rather than cultivate. I should also warn that the city centre or what is commonly referred to as the ‘mainland’ will not be spared from the impending calamity. The catastrophic consequence of all these developments is that whenever there is a storm with a wind speed of more than 60km/hour, the waves from the sea develop to a height more than three storey high and a good part of most of the Island (areas mentioned above) and beyond (the mainland) will be overrun by seawater. We have also seen from various examples like Cyclone Idia, the most recent disaster in Mozambique and its neighboruing countries and the tsunami how these waves can travel hundreds of miles.
Before the rest of the nation breathes a sigh of relief, I should point out that though Lagos is an obvious example, it is just one of many states that should be worried of rising sea levels and torrents. The whole Niger Delta and a good part of Benue State have also settled below sea level.
Here is an excerpt from my article a few weeks back addressing the disaster of Cyclone Idia to reiterate my warning: “For Nigerians who empathize but feel safe in their homes, I would like to remind us that a number of our states are on the coast, so we are not immune to this kind of disaster. Remember that the 2004 Tsunami made its way from the Indian Ocean to hit some parts of Africa. As I await the conclusive scientific report, I won’t beat around the bush and just plainly state that Africa in particular is heading for an unprecedented disaster if we don’t urgently attend to our environment. We are not only ill-equipped to handle disasters, we are ill-prepared to even equip ourselves. This is my note of warning.”
In the last three decades, the impacts of flooding have increasingly assumed from significant to threatening proportions, resulting in losses sustained by urban dwellers and flood victims, it is obvious from the available records that irreparable havocs have been sustained by the citizens of Nigeria due to what has become perennial natural disaster in our cities.
In 2018, a few months ago, it was reported that no less than a quarter of a million households in Nigeria were at risk after heavy rains caused flooding that inundated 80 per cent of the country.
The rainfall began in July and continued into September, causing Nigeria’s two main rivers – the Niger and the Benue – to burst their banks. The resulting disaster affected 34 of the country’s 36 states and caused 141 deaths and 265 injuries to date.
At that time, the government of Nigeria declared a state of emergency in the four worst-affected states of Kogi, Niger, Anambra and Delta. The flooding was exacerbated by poor infrastructure and lack of planning to protect against the waters.
It’s difficult to start now to imagine the kind of damage that will follow such phenomenon occurring again and again. It is also difficult to imagine the kind of cleanup operations and the humanitarian relief that will be needed, the damage to infrastructure, the health implications, especially in a country where there is no sewage system but only septic tanks. Imagine the implication of having a surge similar to what some other islands have faced in a country with septic tanks all over the place, waiting to burst at the slightest pressure and slip into the gushing flood that will transport it all over the city. Do we seriously settle down to imagine what our inactions and poor actions can cost us as a nation?
Can we imagine the health implications, e.g., cholera outbreak, and other problems that will unfailingly arise from such a mess? In a country with very poor early warning systems, how will an evacuation be possible before the storm hits? How would we be able to alert those that will be most affected, especially those living in the low lying areas of the country?
How did we get to this point? There are three main opinions I would like to highlight. The first is that global warming and climate change are directly and or indirectly increasing the amount of rain due to the increase in earth’s temperature that is causing the ice to melt. The second school of thought is of the view that there have been a lot of abuses heaped on the physical environment by man, which is causing an inevitable response by the environment. The abuses include but are not limited to human activities such as industrialization and increase in greenhouse gases, dam constructions, irrigation, bridges and others that have negatively impacted the free flow of water in the drainage channels, rivers and streams, particularly at the urban centers. These developments have reduced drainage channels and erosion passages and/or diverted the natural courses of other waterways.
The third opinion, which I subscribe to, is that while it is the combination of both the first and second thoughts that are the causes of prolonged and torrential showers of rain and the resultant runoff that lead to devastating floods in America, Europe and Africa, including Nigeria, and southwestern Nigeria; the second is 99% the reason for the first.
So, how do we prepare for the coming floods? The only way is by recognizing that we have a collective responsibility to the environment from the government to the ordinary man on the streets. We can start with requesting from every Nigerian to use this opportunity of the planting season to start planting trees. Start looking at your gutters and ensure that those gutters are clean and in a position to be emptied into the drainage and not stagnant. We need to also ensure that the drainage is emptying somewhere and not a dead end.
In the city of Lagos, there are hundreds of primary and secondary canal that was part of the master plan for the whole of Lagos including the Islands. We must therefore passionately plead with Lagos State Government and all the other cities in the country with similar designs to please clean up those canals and find a way of making them work.
This won’t be easy as it will need to be done with a city renewal which may include demolitions of buildings and businesses that have been built on canals, flood plains and waterways. The government will have to ensure a plan is in place to adequately compensate the people that may be affected by this movement. It is better we suffer from the demolition now than to have the suffer from nature’s revolt which would claim lives in their thousands and millions.