Insight

Amid steady infrastructural build-up, Rivers State ravaged by another round of flooding

Each year, residents of the Garden City, Port Harcourt, the Rivers State capital brace up for flooding, especially towards the end of the rainy season. That is usually the period that rainfall defies the weather man’s forecast. It falls unexpectedly and can sometimes last for hours.

In some unexplained cases, there has been heavy rainfall in December in Port Harcourt and other parts of the state. So, one might be tempted to conclude that no matter the force or consistency of rain in the city, residents always have an idea of the worst case scenario of flooding. And for some of them, it is just a little damage that would cause some inconveniences and further make life more difficult.

Natural disaster experts know that no matter how prepared one is, the forces of nature can sometimes be destructive to humans and solidly constructed edifices. For a state that boasts of abundance of rivers, creeks and other water bodies, experts feel that to tackle flooding in such a place, there is need for a robust environmental awareness among residents.

They also feel that the state government should always be prepared for flooding, since the victims are always human – residents who truly need help when disasters strike. A few days ago, heavy downpour descended on the city and badly altered the lives of some residents. The rain caught most residents off guard.

It was supposed to be a normal rain, but then it lasted for about eight straight hours; a duration that looked like eternity to those whose homes had been overtaken by flood water. When it finally stopped, many no longer had a place to call home.

In fact, some fled their homes with their family members as the rain continued and the water within their compounds increased. Staying longer would have amounted to waiting for the water level overrun them. Mostly hit were residential areas whose drainages had long been blocked by unhygienic environmental practices.

Still, there were many others that didn’t contribute negatively to the situation, but simply made to suffer due to poor or non-existent drainage systems; badly constructed or limited water receiver bodies and the ongoing construction works within Port Harcourt. Also affected were commercial and office buildings, especially those along the Azikiwe Road stretch that links Government House, Port Harcourt; SPAR, the massive on stop shopping mall whose down shops were overtaken by flood.

The entrance of Government House also took a hit from the flood, while the entrance and inside of the Rivers State Judiciary Complex was a no-go-area for workers and visitors. The office of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and SPAR were among the worst hit corporate victims. At the Port Harcourt Zonal Office of the FRSC on Aba Road, officials could not access their offices and had to wait outside for hours. Then at SPARS, staff of the various segmented businesses, mainly the ones on the down floor struggled to save wares from being destroyed by flood water.

Then, there were stranded commuters caught up in the middle of the high water level that the rain had created. Right in the middle of the road, there was nowhere for vehicles and commuters to navigate their way through other than to move on foot. And just as some houses were overrun by the flood, some cars and vehicles were almost completely submerged.

This made several commuters to be stranded. A taxi driver heading towards the Town axis of the city, spent the next two days after the rain at the mechanic workshop trying to fix his already old and problematic Jetta car. He explained that the water had penetrated the car’s engine and that he had to pay a tow van operator before it landed at the mechanic workshop. “The water managed to penetrate the engine of my taxi.

This means that the mechanic will carry out a comprehensive engine work. And that costs serious money,” he said. The flooding may have wreaked havoc, however, it is not up to scale of the one the state witnessed in 2012. To cushion the effect of the flooding that affected mostly rural communities, the state government set up a committee led by then Deputy Governor Tell Ikuru, which was allocated a huge sum of money to procure relief materials for victims; and to ensure the smooth running of camps set up for internally displaced persons in the state. According to reports, Cameroon had opened one of its dams, which forced waterways to burst their banks, devastating communities within Cameroon and Nigeria.

It was in a bid to prevent future disasters that both countries initiated talks and later agreed to collaborate on building new flood-control structures, and sharing weather information. According to experts, the opening of the dam in Cameroon causes the water levels of both Rivers Niger and Benue to rise and overflow and contribute immensely to flooding across the country.

While River Niger enters the country from the Northwest, River Benue flows in from Cameroun. The two waters then meet in central Nigeria and flow south as a single river on to the Atlantic Ocean. “Flooding occurs along these two rivers as their banks overflow during the rainy season,” an expert said. The poor state of the country’s dams is another issue that experts have linked to flooding in the county.

The rain and the resultant flooding in Port Harcourt may have taken some residents by surprise; but a few others had expected it. According to the 2021 warnings of the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET) and the Nigerian Hydrological Service Agency (NIHSA), Rivers tops states with adverse weather predictions across the country, based on its geological position at the bank of the Atlantic Ocean. Also, a few months ago, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) had warned about imminent flooding in several local government areas of the state.

At a meeting in Port Harcourt, Godwin Tepikor, the South-South Coordinator of NEMA, had explained that due to the overflow in the rainy season, Rivers Benue and Niger often discharge their water into the Niger Delta region. He then urged local authorities to identify high places to relocate people in case of emergency, predicting that some council areas, including Akuku Toru, Andoni, Okirika, Asari Tori, Ogba Egbema Ndoni, Ahoada East and West, and Abua Odual might be impacted. The NEMA boss said: “There are local government areas and communities in Rivers State that are around the coastal areas.

Recall that Rivers Niger and Benue empty their waters down here in the Niger Delta; Bayelsa and Rivers states and every year there are local governments and communities that are impacted. “Our concern is that residents should begin to take proactive measures by clearing their drains and the local government councils should begin to identify high grounds where they can relocate their citizens in the event that the flood impact these local gov-ernment areas.” He also stressed the need for hygiene, especially, the indiscriminate disposal of refuse into the drainages, a key issue that appears to have defied solution due to the blatant disregard for healthy hygienic practices among some residents.

He said: “Residents also should not throw garbage into the drains, they should begin to clear the drains so that in the event that the flooding happens, the impact will be highly mitigated. We must be as serious as if nothing was done.” As flooding ravaged parts of the city, the state government and NEMA held a meeting with Ministries, Departments and Agencies MDAs and local government chairmen.

They agreed that the focus should be proactive measures against flooding in order to prevent it from wreaking more havoc and from affecting socio-cultural activities During the meeting, the state government, represented by the SSG, Dr. Tammy Danagogo, noted that NEMA, which has catalogued the diverse challenges of emergency management during floods, needs the collaboration of the councils who know their communities better.

“His Excellency, Governor Nyesom Wike, has directed me to interface with NEMA, council chairmen, and relevant ministries to guarantee that all parties know their roles in order to avert the expected flood that may result in the displacement of our people. “I believe that by the time you synergize your experiences with the expertise from NEMA, we should be able to work and provide solutions against flood disaster in our state. “I further urge residents of our dear state to imbibe good sanitary habits. Do not dump refuse in the gutters or build on water channels.

Such crude habits will only compound flood situations across the state,” Danagogo added. What appears to be a major problem as the state battles flooding, which some experts have predicted will hit hardest in November is the absence of camps or settlement areas for would be victims.

This is due to the absence of a standby disaster management/relief agency that would offer timely intervention. Then, there is also the rash behavior of some residents who intentionally block drainage channels with refuse. Whenever it rains in some parts of Port Harcourt, some residents see it as an opportunity to pour their refuse into flowing rain water on the main road.

For some, discharging their refuse into the drainage is preferable. But when the drainage gets blocked, they begin to blame the government for not doing enough. For example, over the years at the Sangana Market, very close to the Umbrella Market under the Mile 1 Flyover, unruly and unhygienic traders have had their way. They usually empty their refuse on the main road that cuts through the Sangana Market despite the efforts of council officials from the Port Harcourt City Local Government Area to prevent such.

It appears that the traders, who mostly sell foodstuffs and fruits, have consistently vowed never to toe the path of cleanliness and orderliness by displaying their wares outside the spaces they initially allocated to themselves. That is also the situation at the popular Mile 3 Market and many other places, both commercial and residential in the city.

By failing to maintain basic sanitation practices, some residents undermine the state government’s resolve to manage waste in the state through the Rivers State Waste Management Agency (RIWAMA). In some communities in Diobu, where landlords build houses very close to each other, and the adjoining waterside communities that can be easily seen from Eagle Island, people complained bitterly. In Iloabuchi, which is behind the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, the flood chased a few people away from their houses. A man in his 50s and father of four, whose room and parlour apartment was filled with water lamented that the water destroyed most of his properties.

“I have seen flood in the past in this city and the state in general like the one of 2012. But we were not prepared for this particular one at all. It is as one is starting afresh because of this flood.” The area that the state government seems to be lacking, according to one expert is the absence of more solidly constructed water receiver bodies to ease the flow of drainage channels. Also, the expert called on the state government to set up relief camps across the state to assist victims of flood and other disasters. He said: “Disaster management should not be based on a fire brigade approach. It should be well planned and managed by professionals that should always be on standby.

“The state government should create an agency that should handle flooding and other disasters to reduce the dependence on NEMA. I strongly feel that Rivers has the capacity to help out people of the state, especially those through no fault of theirs become victims of natural disasters.” Expectedly, the reaction of some stakeholders to the flooding have somewhat created a big blame field where nobody really wants to take responsibility while pointing fingers. Yet, there is the general consensus that flooding in the state is caused by man’s actions.

That in itself echoes the need for adjustments in environmental actions, which starts with personal hygiene at the lowest level of the solution ladder to the well structured environmental planning, especially in building construction in the urban areas where mass housing development is rife. Depending on where one views Port Harcourt from, it is a city that comprises of rapidly developing towns and communities. There is the Old Port Harcourt in the Town axis, which expands into the Sharks Stadium, the Port Harcourt prisons up to Borokiri and the adjoining waterside communities that serve as the gateway to the riverine communities.

Then, there is the not too old Port Harcourt, that boasts of the Government Reserve Areas and the new one that can be seen from the Port Harcourt International Airport, Omagwa or from the Onne Port, or still from the Port Harcourt Refinery in Eleme Local Government Area.

But the main point remains that it is one of the fastest growing cities on the continent, which also boasts of a fast improving economy. In the past few years, the Garden City as Port Harcourt is fondly called has undergone a massive transformation. There has been a continuous construction of roads and flyovers to ease the movement of goods and passengers.

These developments have greatly upgraded the status of Port Harcourt as a chic and contemporary city with some concluding that with sustained and focused development drive, Port Harcourt will become a world class city in the not too distant future. However, despite this feat, fingers are being pointed at the construction companies handling the city’s big projects – Julius Berger. The most vocal critic is the Coalition of Rivers State Ethnic Youth Leaders, which accuses the construction giant of failing “to carry out feasibility studies as practised globally” while executing it’s projects.

The leader of the group, Legborsi Yamabana argued that the alleged negligence of the construction company has left many houses and businesses to be submerged in water in the last few days. He notes that the situation would have been averted if “necessary Environmental Impact Assessments were carried out”.

He also faulted the action taken by the Rivers State government which led to the sack of the former commissioner for environment, Igbiks Tamuno for allegedly “questioning the construction company for carrying out road construction without impact assessment”. Also, the manager of Port Harcourt Mall, Ifeoma Okoye, also said the flooding worsened after Julius Berger worked on the road in front of the mall. “I don’t know what kind of work Julius Berger did here.

Since after Julius Berger worked, it has become even blocked. The damage here at the mall is terrible,” she lamented. For Emmanuel Ajie, the head of department of Survey and Geo-informatics, Captain Elechi Amadi Polytechnic, the state government has to deliberately constructed canals and channels to link drains with rivers. He also called for the dredging of rivers in the state, which he said have become shallow and cannot take in large volumes of water. “That is the way we can solve this problem. It is not only about drainage, because drainages cannot take large volume of water,” he said.

“It is good for the government to go ahead of the people in planning cities. It is not when the people finish building then government will go and construct roads and start scattering houses and looking for how to maneuver and get drainage done. “It is not easy that way. In developed countries government goes ahead of the people before the people start coming. In our area here, people go ahead of government before government starts coming. They also construct roads by themselves. They do everything including the drainage by themselves before the government starts coming.”

To check future flooding, the Commissioner for Works, Eloka Tasie-Amadi, wants houses built on flood channels to be demolished. He also feels that the flash floods in some parts of Port Harcourt metropolis is caused by indiscriminate dumping of refuse in the drains and flood canals.

Tasie-Amadi said that even though government was spending a lot to evacuate wastes and drains, residents were not being responsible about how they disposed of their waste. “The government spends so much money trying to take out wastes from the drains and everyday people take them back in. And what do you expect? It is a natural consequence of our conduct. If we do not reorient ourselves we keep on having the same problem. “We have a lot of buildings that are actually built across the flood channels. People are reclaiming properties narrowing some channels.

Population is increasing; rains are more, global warming and all that. “But drains that were wide before, we narrow them down and we expect things to be different. It’s not possible,” Tasie- Amadi said. He also disagrees with observers that the ongoing road construction by Julius Berger in some parts of Port Harcourt was responsible for the flooding.

“They are doing construction in some areas, not everywhere. But you find flooding in so many areas where there is no construction. Psychiatric Road is flooded, Julius Berger is not working there. Odili Road is flooded, Julius Berger is not working there. Olu Obasanjo Road is flooded, Julius Berger is not working there. “Buildings that obstruct free flow of water ought to be demolished. That will be my recommendation. It is left to the executive council to deliberate on what I recommend and see if that is the only option or there are other options.”

Then, just when observers thought that they have heard it all on the flood, Dr. Dakuku Peterside, a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC), who contested the 2015 election called on Governor Nyesom Wike, to urgently reactivate the drainage master plan put in place by his predecessor, Rt Hon Chibuike Amaechi. Peterside, in a statement said that the Amaechi administration had put in place a drainage master plan for the city of Port Harcourt and was already being executed before he left office in 2015, but was however abandoned by Wike for political reasons.

Peterside, the former Director-General of the Nigerian Maritime Administration and Safety Agency (NIMASA), who served as Commissioner of Works in Amaechi’s first term in office, blamed the Wike-led administration for not paying attention to early warning signals from NIMET. “The governor awards projects from his office without going through the due process and the very important Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which has unfortunately led to pain and agony by the people.

“It is even more shocking that the state government is yet to respond, even if halfheartedly to the cries of the people, but has chosen to blame everybody other than itself. A responsive government should by now be engaging and looking for ways out of the crisis.

“Port Harcourt has never had it this bad and it can only mean that the state’s relevant ministries, departments, and agencies are either incompetent in carrying out their duties or have been starved of necessary funds to function optimally.” An observer, who praised Peterside for speaking out, however, claimed however that Peterside contributed to the flooding by allowing road contractors to deliver poor jobs that lacked drainages or poorly constructed ones.

He also wondered why the Amaechi-led administration had to wait till its last days in office before implementing its flood master plan. He added: “We were all here when contracts were awarded to friends and cronies who had no experience in road construction. For four solid years, Peterside was the commissioner for works. What happened then? “Most of the roads awarded then collapsed because they were not properly done. Some of these contracts were re-awarded by the Wike administration. It is not right for us to politicise everything as Peterside just did.”

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