THE world woke up last Thursday and Saturday respectively to the news of the earthquakes that rocked Japan and Ecuador. Both tragedies occurred in the Chinese cities of Kumamoto and Minamiaso – all in the South, while that of Ecuador hit the cities of Manabi, Pedernales, and Guayaquil (where the worst impact was recorded). The earthquakes caused massive devastation and left many either dead or wounded. Up till the time of going to press the death toll in Japan had hit 49, while Ecuador recorded 443 deaths with over 42.3 billion worth of property damaged.
However, the bad weather conditions in this time of the season, coupled with intermittent aftershocks, have made rescue operations a bit cumbersome and perilous.
Japan’s response was quite swift and captured their versatility in handling such disasters as they are not strangers to earthquakes and natural disasters. The country from available records has experienced more earthquakes than any other nation, at least, in Asia.
The deadliest earthquake to ever hit Ecuador was on March 5, 1987 – about 25 kilometres north of Revetador Volcano – along the eastern slopes of the Verdes Mountain. 1000 persons were sent to their early graves. Its magnitude was 7.2. It was an indescribable tragedy.
The difficulty in carrying out prompt rescue and search after the recent earthquake in Japan was caused by its geomorphic nature, location and topography. Japan is one of the largest and most buoyant economies in the world but without much land. The nature of the country makes it very difficult to cover in an emergency just as the one in our hands. The topography is also a major problem: it has very impregnable vegetation with its sea beds prone to continual seismic changes, particularly shift in earth’s plates that trigger off the displacement of the earth crust, leading to tsunami in most cases.
I recall very vividly what happened in 2011 when Japan was fatally devastated by an 8.9 magnitude earthquake that caused a deadly tsunami that left it fatally desolated with over three thousand lives lost.
The latest earthquakes in Japan and Ecuador measured between 7.0 and 7.8 in magnitude. But the lucky news is that there was no tsunami despite the early warning signs to that effect. As I wrote this piece rescue efforts were ongoing without much hope of any remarkable success because of bad weather and other identifiable logistic problems.
The Japanese Prime Minister has since ordered over 25,000 troops to engage in search and rescue operations.
The complexities of earthquakes make them fearsome. The aftershocks and their geomorphic effects caused by landslides, mudslides and flooding are usually a nightmare.
There is no country in Asia, for instance, that has not been hit by earthquake at one point or another. My worry has been: for how long is the world going to suffer from this terrible and horrendous calamity? This year alone there have been five earthquakes. They occurred in the United States, Russia, Indonesia, and now Japan and Ecuador. Where next is it going to affect? Nobody can say, for sure.
According to volcanologists, ‘earthquakes are caused when rock underground suddenly breaks along a fault. This sudden release of energy causes the seismic waves that make the ground shake. When two blocks of plates are rubbing against each other, they stick a little.’ This fault could be lateral or vertical.
Again, the tectonic plates underneath the earth are constantly moving, even though very slowly. They, however, get stuck at their edges as a result of friction. When the stress on the edges overcomes the friction, earthquake occurs, which releases energy in waves that travel through the earth’s crust and cause the tremor that we feel.
What lesson does the latest incident hold for Japan and the rest of the world? This question has become inevitable, considering the mindless way the environment is has been abused. One had thought that by now the world would have been more humane and reasonable in the way it handles the environment. All the conferences and conventions on safeguarding the environment have not produced the desired results. The outcomes from these seminars have ended up largely in the archives. What has Asia done since the Samantra tsunami of December 26, 2004 that left parts of Indonesia, Pakistan, Malaysia, and India devastated? Nothing serious really!
It can be argued that natural disasters are acts of God, but nobody can argue that the world is capable of doing something concrete to protect itself from such disasters or, at least, reduce their impact. I wonder why Japan, as rich and technologically-sophisticated as it is, could not design a piece of technology to save its people from being continually slaughtered by wicked and ferocious waves and earthquakes.
The 2014 tsunami exposed the underbelly of Japan as regards its nuclear plants. The tsunami threatened the plants, thereby creating fears about a possible exposure of the people to dangerous emissions. I had all along believed that the nuclear plants were designed to withstand such vagaries of weather. But the way they panicked over the collapse of parts of their nuclear plants during the 2014 earthquake/tsunami tells a simple story about their ill-preparedness to handle such emergencies.
This brings us to the critical issue of nuclear disarmament. Is the world ready if what happened in Japan in 2014 happen on a larger scale? What will happen if North Korea and other nuclear superpowers make real their threat to use nuclear weapons in future wars? The constant skirmishes between North Korea and South Korea are capable of igniting the use of such dangerous weapons. This is why the world should, as a matter of urgency, review the various protocols on the amassment and use of nuclear weapons and warheads. The bombing of Hiroshima during World War II and the attendant colossal loss of lives should have served as a veritable lesson to the world.
My fear is that the world will be annihilated should there be a World War IV. The United Nations, United States and their allies in NATO, should take more drastic measures to restructure the way its members look at nuclear disarmament. It has to step up its campaign against the accumulation of such weapons and the intransigency of some of its members over compliance. It should not wait until an obdurate member fires the first salvo before it takes a stringent measure to deal with their threats.
Scientists (volcanologists) also have a huge task to monitor the eruption of such disastrous earthquakes. It had been expected that seismological studies should have given an indication about the imminence of such disasters ever before they occurred.
The 2014 tsunami should have opened their eyes to the complications associated with such disasters in order to be in a better position to have detected the present tragedy before it occurred.
It makes no sense for the world to fold its arms and watch its population decimated by disasters. The truth is that if enough time is given to people to evacuate a particularly vulnerable area only a few lives could be lost. The high tolls recorded when such disasters occur are as a result of lack of sufficient time to evacuate the people and essential properties. I think the world can address this problem by pooling resources to fashion out a functional strategy. It is wrong to move in aids after a whole city had been wiped out when something could have been done to nip it in the bud.
It is gratifying to note that the evacuation of people in last Saturday’s earthquake in Japan was better organised and more prompt than in the 2014 earthquake. This significantly reduced the level of casualty.
The tragedy that befell Japan is not peculiar to it. In fact, any other country of the world can be so affected so long as we are alive. But I believe that taking extra care will avert tragedies of such epic proportions.
This brings us to Nigeria. It could be said that Nigeria is a very lucky country, going by the few disasters it had faced since it became a sovereign nation. But this does not, however, mean that Nigeria is immune to disasters. After all, there have been a few cases of disasters that have left us traumatized and helpless. Take for instance, the Ogunpa River that overflowed its banks in the 80s, leaving a sizeable part of Ibadan Metropolis heavily flooded, with houses submerged and properties worth billions of naira destroyed. Flooding has posed one of the biggest threats to life in Nigeria. The northern parts of the country have experienced terrible flooding. It happened in Sokoto three years ago, forcing the state government to call for assistance. The whole premises of Usman Danfodio University, Sokoto, were overtaken by water for weeks – paralysing academic and other activities and damaging properties worth billions of naira.
The same situation obtains in parts of Ogun State, especially the state capital every now and then.
Is a tsunami possible in Nigeria? Why not. When it is surrounded by large bodies of water such as the Atlantic Ocean? The Bar Beach and surrounding beaches have been constantly neglected over the years. The little works that had been done to protect the shores of the beach were achieved through the persistence of the Lagos State government. Before now it had been an issue that had raised too much controversy and bad blood between the Federal Government and Lagos State Government. As far as I am concerned they should not play politics with lives of innocent citizens, rather they should bury the hatchet and do what is needful to secure the beach. We should not forget the damage the beach caused when it overflowed its banks and flooded the whole of Victoria Island, Lagos. Though no life was lost, it left in its trail damaged cars and properties.
Have we forgotten also the busting of the dam that flooded parts of Ogun and Ikorodu areas of Lagos five years ago? I wonder what has happened to the thousands of displaced persons and billions of naira worth of properties destroyed. We were all witnesses to the helplessness of the governments when the sad incident happened. For days nobody knew what to do, because the magnitude of the disaster overwhelmed them.
It is also worrisome that land reclamation all over Lagos is being done without considering the dangers they pose to residents. I am aware that most parts of the Lekki area of Lagos have been reclaimed without due authorisation and compliance with extant laws. Even where such laws exist the enabling environment for stringent and meticulous scrutiny and implementation is absent.
I worry because only two months ago a five storey building collapsed in Lekki, leaving some persons dead. Though I appreciate the prompt reaction of the Lagos State Government to the unfortunate incident, it is yet to reveal what really caused the collapse, save for the usual reason of poor structural works. But ask me and I will boldly tell you that the cause was not unconnected with the topography of the place. Don’t forget the place was covered by water before land speculators had to reclaim it to make way for new structures not originally fit for such an area.
Undoubtedly, many of such reclamations had been done in different parts of Lagos without any modicum of conscience on the part of the perpetrators and their agents.
What about erosion? This is an endemic problem. From east to west, north to south, the problem is the same. The case of Anambra and Abia States calls for a more serious action. Many communities in these states have been washed away by flood erosion. And the governments do not have the capacity to deal with the situation.
Nevertheless, it is important we provide frank answers to the following questions? What will happen if the Atlantic Ocean overflowed its banks and emptied into Lagos? Are the residents aware of what they should do in such a circumstance? Are the emergency agencies prepared to confront disaster of an unexpected magnitude? What future faces the residents of the Lekki area of Lagos in case of a tsunami, even though we don’t wish for that? What contingency plans has the Federal Government put in place to deal with any unexpected disaster? If we can provide sincere and realistic answers to these questions and match them with proper citizenship education then we are halfway to providing a genuine platform to deal with big disasters in future.
In my own estimation, Nigeria is a very lucky country. Why then have we failed to turn this luck into blessing for our hapless people? We are blessed with everything good, but our leaders have chosen to continue to impoverish us. Nigeria is rich and blessed enough to provide all the needs of its people and banish hunger, poverty and diseases. We are where we are today because of greed and selfishness.
All of us will perish if Nigeria takes the place of Japan and faces the same disasters it had experienced all these years. God forbid! I sympathise with the people of Japan and Ecuador as I wish them divine protection against any future disasters.
Lest I forget: has the Nigerian government commiserated with the governments of Japan and Ecuador and assisted the victims as much as it could?