The Director General, Nigeria Hydrological Service Agency, Mr Clement Nze, an engineer, has called on state governments and appropriate authorities in the country to take advantage of the dry season to prepare for the rainy season as a way of mitigating the effects of flooding.
Nze’s call is coming on the heels of the forecast by the Nigeria Metrological Agency, NIMET, which puts the nation on alert ahead of coming rainy season.
The NIHSA boss pointed out that while flooding which he described as enemy is not entirely a bad phenomenon, identified how Nigeria could tap into the benefits of flooding.
He also spoke on how the government could prevent a reoccurrence of flooding and its attendant loss of lives and property in this interview.
How should Nigerians prepare for this year’s rainy season with the attendant flooding, which has become a recurrent problem in the country?
The only thing we can speak authoritatively on is the rainfall as made public by the Nigerian Metrological Agency, NIMET, on January 21, 2020. There are some measures of correlation between the amount of rainfall and flooding. According to this prediction, there will be early onset of rain in 2020 compared to 2019. The earliest time the rain will start in the Southern part of the country is February 24, 2020. This is different from what we call false-start, a situation where the rain falls in a day and may take up to three weeks before we experience another rain. So, Nigeria should expect the rain to start and continues to fall as early as 24 of February this year in the southern part. But in the northern part, the earliest will be from, 2nd of June in areas like Sokoto, Katsina, and Yobe. Then the rainfall cessation will be around 22nd September in the North while the South should expect the cessation of rains around December 28 of this year. These are the figure we have so far for this year. We are expecting about the range of 400mm to 800mm of rainfall in the North and in the southern part we should expect about 3,000mm in some parts.
What is the implication of these figures for the country?
As an agency, we are already looking at what this portends as regards to flooding. As you may know there are so many indices that could trigger flooding apart from rainfall. One is the geology of the area and another one is the topography. Whether the place is a hilly area or at the foot of a hill or in a plane, flat land. We can also talk about the rain in other countries because Nigeria is not an isolated country as far as rain is concerned. So, we have to talk about what is happening in other countries within the West and Central Africa. Like in West Africa, what is happening in Guinea, Mali, Niger, Benin Republic, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso, they affect what is happening in River Niger before it comes down to Nigeria. Then on the Central African side, River Benue from Cameroun and the inflow from Chad, all these will combine together and come to Nigeria, meeting at Lokoja, Kogi State. We are watching what will happen upstream because Nigeria is downstream before we can make a categorical statement on whether there will be flooding and the magnitude compared to what we experienced in 2019, 2018 and so on and so forth. We are still working making preparation for this. But very soon we will go public.
Nigeria, in the last few years, has experienced persistent flooding, what is responsible for this?
It is when there are disruptions that we talk about flooding. I am glad to inform you that in Abuja various stakeholders – FCT Emergency Management Agency, FEMMA, with Abuja Environmental Protection Board, AEPB, and Department of Works in FCT, have been going round for some days to flood prone areas in other to know what to do and sensitize the people. When structures are built within the flood planes, adjacent to rivers, when people build structures within these areas, it will definitely cause flooding or when they go to natural channels, which are meant for the conveyance of excess water during flooding, but because they are always dry during dry season and people decide to erect buildings there, this will naturally cause flooding or when drainages are blocked with all manners of debris or there are non-existing ones, if you go to some estates in some cities in Nigeria, while providing infrastructure, they just put up roads without drainages, this will definitely cause flooding, because the water will always find a way to pass. And then if the rainfall is heavier, high intensity with longer duration, it will cause flooding because the ground will be saturated and the excess one will be flowing on top. These are some of the things that will aggravate flooding. Heavy rainfall in the upper catchment, when we talk about river flooding, Nigeria is at the bottom of Niger Basin of nine countries, so whenever there is flooding in these countries, it will come down to Nigeria.
State governments in Nigeria have been accused of applying fire brigade approach to address the problem of flooding. What is NIHSA doing to ensure a change of approach?
That is a very good question. The Nigeria Hydrological Service Agency has started to educate the public, particularly the state governments that the right time to prepare for flooding is during the dry season. Like I said earlier, various authorities in the FCT are already on the field collating data, warning people and getting set to pull down structures that are within the flood plains. We are telling Nigerians, state governments in particular, state emergency management agencies, town planning authorities in the states, state environmental authorities, that the right time to prepare for flooding is now. If they go now, they can see the flood marks on structures, whether on trees or buildings, to tell you the extent of the inundation when the flood will come. So, the past ones can give them an insight to this, they can see the marks on trees and on houses. So, these structures should be removed now, don’t wait until between July and September, when the rains are fully here and then begin to adopt fire brigade approach. So, we want Nigeria to get it right this year and that is the reason we have begun our sensitization programmes very early in the year. We are urging governments and individuals to take positive actions in addressing flooding in 2020.
Still talking on flooding, which states are likely to be most affected in case of flooding this year?
While I cannot make any categorical statement at this stage, we know the states that are traditionally flood-prone. Typical of them are Kogi State and virtually all the states downstream Kogi, talk about Edo, Delta, Anambra, Rivers State; these are states that are downstream Kogi and then because of River Benue, like what happened last year in October when the rain had ceased in Nigeria, Camerounian authorities opened their dam on the 10th of October when the rain had ceased in Nigeria and the rivers had gone down, they opened their dam, all of a sudden so many communities in Adamawa State got submerged, they left their gate opened from 10th of October till October 31st, three weeks. The Nigerian authorities kept calling on Cameroun to know what happened, it was much later that they admitted that they opened their dam. So, Adamawa State, Taraba, Benue even Niger State on the River Niger side should be on the watch including Kebbi. For now we cannot make categorical statement on flooding, but it is better to over prepare against the enemy. The flood is an enemy to us because we don’t know what to do with it even though flood is a good thing if properly managed, but for now, going by what is happening, we can look at the flood as an enemy. So, the better we prepare far ahead of flood, the better for us.
What can those states affected by flooding when the Cameroonian authorities opened their dam last year do to prevent a re-occurrence?
There is the need to have plan B ahead of time. When it is getting to a time like late August, for instance, when the rains are heavy, with close monitoring, you can begin to evacuate people. Most of the time, flood comes at night when people are fast asleep. So, I will advise states that have continuously suffered from flooding especially between the months of July and September that, as early as possible, let’s say by August, they can evacuate their people temporarily to safer grounds. They can go to their relatives and stay there for some time, let’s say for three months.
What is your assessment about the state of dams in Nigeria?
Dams are one of the best structures that we can use to tackle flooding. In India where they have thousands of large dams, the dams are used for various purposes – flood control, hydro-power generation, irrigation activities, fishing and then recreational activities like we have in Abuja, what they call the Jabi Dam or Jabi Lake. In Nigeria, like I will always maintain, we are under-dam, we don’t have enough dams in Nigeria. It mustn’t be large dams, dams that are about 15km high and above are what we call large dams. We can have small dams. This will go a long way to check flooding in the country. For instance, in Adamawa, at times Taraba will be flooded and people will say it is because Cameroon opens their dam, that is not always the truth. Like in 2018, Cameroun didn’t open their dam, but there are a lot of rivers, tributaries of River Benue within the Nigerian portion like Donga, Gongonla, Katsina Ala, these are rivers in Nigeria that are highly prolific that discharge into River Benue. If small dam can be put on these rivers, you can reduce the amount of water that will be found in the main River Benue channel. There is one in River Katsina-Ala, what we call Kachinfila Dam built to checkmate any eventuality from Lake Yons in Cameroun, in case it will explode because it is a fragile lake. It happened around 1986 and that destroyed so many livestock in Nigeria because it contains highly poisonous gases. It was emptied into River Katsina-Ala in 1986. So, that was the major reason Kasinfila dam was built on River Katsina-Ala, in case Lake Yons breaks again and releases the poisonous gases, the dam in River Katsina-Ala will absorb it. It also helps to reduce the inflow of water from River Katsina-Ala into River Benue. Katsina-Ala contributes about 26-27 per cent of the volume of water in River Benue within Nigeria. So, that dam helps to reduce the amount of water that flows into River Benue. So, Nigeria needs more dams.
You mentioned earlier that flooding could also serve positive purposes. How can Nigeria turn the negativity of flooding into positive use?
I have been at several international fora where the use of the resources of River Niger was negotiated. We came to an agreement called threshold where we said no country should take more than 25 per cent of volume of the water passing through their country to allow enough water to go downstream. For instance, in Guinea, they shouldn’t take more than 25 per cent of water that will come down to Mali and Mali should not take more than 25 per cent in that order. When it comes to Niger, they shouldn’t take more than 25 per cent. So, when we were arguing before that it shouldn’t be more than 15 per cent, other countries would ask Nigeria what we had done with the water that has been coming to us before, you waste them to the Atlantic Ocean. Now, until we begin to cherish water as a resource, the better for us. Why should state government allow this huge volume of water, fresh water to pass through their territory and be lost to the Atlantic Ocean forever? We are talking about over 200 billion cubic litres of water annually. State can build diversion structure. They can create now towns within their territory by diverting this water, build massive structures that will arrest this water. This can be used for year-round agriculture. It can be used for recreation. It will help to recharge the ground water like we have in Abuja here, the Jabi Lake. Before they relied on boreholes, but what the boreholes were not producing enough water, but because of that artificial lake there, the ground water is heavily recharged. Therefore, the boreholes are yielding more volume of water and the atmosphere is cool. This creates very beautiful scenery and people go there for recreation every day. So, what we are saying is that the state governments can divert this water by creating structures within their own domains. They will definitely have a lot to gain from it. So, we should not allow the water to waste away annually because they will never come back.