Federal government’s declaration of national disaster in four states has again brought to the fore the perennial challenges of flood management and control in the country. Director-General of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) Mustapha Maihaja, while declaring the flooding in Kogi, Niger, Delta and Anambra states as national disasters at the behest of the Federal Government also placed eight other states on the agency’s watch list.
The measures followed warnings by the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency that Rivers Benue and Niger had reached levels that gave rise to flooding in 2012 when about 30 states were affected with an estimated death toll of 300 people and more than 2 million residents displaced.
In Imo State, last week the agency directed seven flood-prone communities in the Ohaji/Egbema Local Government Area to quit their homes to avert calamity. Head of Imo and Anambra Operations Office of NEMA said the warning became necessary in view of the fact that the Oguta Lake and Orashi River had risen beyond their normal levels resulting in the submerging of farmlands by the overflowing rivers. Given the threat to lives and property arising from the current flooding, it is heartwarming that NEMA has taken the proactive step of categorizing the most prone states as national disasters to drive home the seriousness of the scourge.
It has also inaugurated five emergency operation centers to facilitate prompt search and rescue as well as humanitarian support services in the worst affected states. Good as these are, they well fit into temporary, albeit, ad hoc measures. They could come handy in the emergency situation created by the ravaging floods but are patently incapable of providing permanent and lasting solutions to the nagging phenomenon of flooding in parts of the country.
Given that the peculiar flooding challenges that confront the country stem largely from the overflow of our major rivers, the expectation is that concrete measures should have been taken to check the rising rivers from spilling over into the communities with the resultant destructions. In this regard, such control measures as the construction of levees, dams, reservoirs and channels to divert flood water and prevent the overflow of our rivers should have been a high priority. Having not taken the requisite preventive measures, we are consequently left with the miserable situation in which much of our states are regularly flooded by overflowing rivers. It is not enough to declare national disaster in the four states. Neither does the solution lie in the emergency responses that have been lined up by NEMA.
Since the sources of the perennial flooding are known, the government should initiate concrete and durable measures to prevent the rivers from overflowing into farmlands and homes through the construction of permanent embankments to stave off the destructive consequences of any overflow. That will not only save lives and property but also conserve funds deployed to manage emergencies.
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We commend the Federal Government for releasing N3 billion for emergency responses and in aid of victims of the current flood rampage. We urge the government to construct permanent flood prevention structures. The common adage: prevention is better than cure, fits in very appropriately here. The right focus should therefore be on preventive rather than curative responses.
The possibility of the funds earmarked for the emergencies going into hands other than those for which they were released is real. With the level of graft in public offices even in the face of the avowal of the government to stamp it out, there is no assurance that some of those entrusted with the management of the funds will not divert them to self-serving ends. Our experience in the management of Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in parts of the country is instructive.
The government must, therefore, ensure that the funds are not only deployed to the purposes for which they were released but those entrusted with their management must provide verifiable evidence of all disbursements to the relevant authorities. That way, we would ensure that the intentions of the government in alleviating the suffering of those displaced by the menacing floods are neither compromised nor sabotaged by dishonest officials whose major preoccupation during such sensitive national assignments is the lure of their pockets.