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, for which billions, ala Naija, are announced, but not much gets to the supposed beneficiaries. Until another disaster strikes, nothing is usually heard from FEMA about flash floods, which are more prevalent in the country, or flooding of coastal areas when rivers overflow their banks. Currently, echoes of flooding filter from both the National Assembly and state capitals.
Besides FEMA, there is the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA), which also issues warnings about floods. For example, there was a recent one in the media after what the institution’s boss described as sensitisation workshop, in which people living along riverbanks in Kebbi, Sokoto, Zamfara, Katsina and Niger states, which the agency designated as high-risk flood corridor, were warned to “relocate to safer places ahead of imminent terrestrial flooding, which might occur, between July and September 2019.”
As captured in 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.”
In the typical Nigerian style of public service, the people were counselled by the expert to vacate their homes and, perhaps, become voluntary internally displaced persons (IDPs).
“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.
In 2016, NIHSA also announced that there would be flooding in 14 states and urged 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.”
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 seekers of information. It has an editorial style that affirms repetitiveness; that is, if you follow its monthly publication. Take this from its Outlook For July 2018 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, unkempt dirty surroundings, and 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. So the beat goes on year-on-year.
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. According to 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 seven million people. The estimated damage and losses caused by the floods were worth N2.6 trillion.” And what steps has government agencies taken to mitigate future damage, as flood is a recurring decimal in Nigeria?
Floods happen everywhere, including the highly developed countries of Europe and America. Soldiers were drafted in to help clean up parts of the Yorkshire Dales 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.
For example, the US confronts same problem more holistically. “The National Climate Assessment summarizes 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, urbanization), 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.”
Nigeria needs to rise beyond throwing money at problems and counting losses while the relevant agencies do next to nothing about solutions to such challenges. Government has failed to inform Nigerians about the true risk 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. Action is required.
•Nwafo, veteran copy editor/environmental analyst, can be reached on [email protected]