Of all weather-related disasters, flood is the most widespread. Others include storms, earthquakes, landslides, tsunamis and hurricanes. ADEYINKA ADENIJI looks at the challenges of flooding across the country, especially now that the rains are here and what all must do to avoid disasters
It is an avoidable phenomenon, which when not adequately mitigated, is characterised by the submergence of spaces that are usually dry and its caused by various factors, paramount of which is man’s injustice to his environment.
Man’s war against nature
The inappropriate interactions of man with his immediate ecosystem, seems to be a debt that man must repay. Nigeria, the most populous black nation on earth, has had its share of devastating incidences of torrential rains and the people are regrettably learning to live with the yearly floods that engulf various parts of the country, destroying houses, farmlands, infrastructures and sometimes human lives between March and November each year. Heavy rainfalls resulting from tropical weather disturbances, deforestation; improper agricultural practices; inadequate environmental hazards protection infrastructure; Poor maintenance of drainage facilities; arbitrary dredging; Blockage by debris washed into the drainage and flood plains; Urbanisation which hardens most surfaces thereby hindering rain waters from sinking into the ground; Reclamation of seashores for housing projects, as a way of mitigating housing shortages amidst massive urbanisation, are the main causes of flooding. The amount of danger posed by overflowing waters as an aftermath of excessive rains, or tidal surges from the ocean, is usually devastating with mitigating costs always weighing past individual capacity or community efforts. Sadly, aftermaths of flooding are constantly destructive and, in most cases deadly; resulting in loss of human lives, and properties, destruction of farmlands and products and the deterioration of health conditions owing to waterborne diseases among others. Due to its wide-reaching effect on the ecosystem, the mitigation, adaptation, prevention and control of floods have become a staple item in the diaries of environmental policymakers. There exist various relevant government departments and agencies offering periodical forecasts and advisories to ensure the safety of lives and properties. Accordingly, many authoritative voices have offered warnings on possible and imminent catastrophic effects of flooding and the danger they pose to humanity and the need for mitigation and control by both government and the people. The over 300 million people living along coastlines the world over, risk losing their habitat to the speculated submergence as a result of higher sea levels, to be occasioned by climate change. It is worth mentioning that Lagos, Nigeria and other coastlines in the Gulf of Guinea are some of the places to be swept underwater by the year 2050 if mitigating measures fail, according to weather forecasters. Nevertheless, non-coastal regions have equally witnessed torrential rains, leading to highly destructive floods. Various degrees of flood water surfacing during and after rains have been witnessed in almost every part of the country regardless of topography. Nigeria as geography is not lacking in institutions and agencies saddled with the responsibility of weatherrelated research, recommendations and advisories in form of predictions and forecasts, all aimed at preventing and mitigating the impact of flood disasters, as a departure from the usual post-disaster fire brigade approach to damage control, in the path of environmental preservation.
Control agencies warn
The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NHSA), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), and the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMET), all government agents responsible for flood-related undertakings, yearly, as coordinated by relevant Federal ministries, provide useful information in form of Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) among others. The outlook serves both as a warning and also as a working document for environmental policymakers, through insights into the expected nature and magnitude of annual rainfall and Flood.
This helps guide environmental managers and policy formulators and operators in directing measures and advising both government and the general public, expectedly, towards proactive steps in mitigating the effects of flooding. The AFO, according to the NHSA Director-General, Engr. Clement Nze, is a part of efforts to sensitising the nation, particularly planners, decision and policymakers, farmers, stakeholders and the general public on the need to embark on preventive measures to enhance security and reduce probable damages to lives and property from the flood events and to increase awareness for better preparedness on flood mitigation and management, particularly in the flood risk zones all over the country. Customary to the routine of his office, on May 12, 2022, the Minister of Water Resources, Engr. Suleiman Adamu, revealed the flood forecast for the year, as he identified 32 states of the federation, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), with higher chances of disastrous incidents of flooding.
Although the most vulnerable to floods and their destructive impacts are thousands of coastal and other noncoastal communities with hundreds of millions of people across the globe, other hinterland locations without aquatic endowments were also found on the list.
Danger even in non-coastal states
Floods in non-coastal areas like the FCT, Kwara, Niger, Katsina, Zamfara e.t.c., are majorly caused by inadequate urban development plans, official corruption, and lack of will on the part of authorities to enforce environmental protection laws and flagrant disobedience to stipulated urban planning criteria. Nevertheless, some non-coastal regions have also experienced torrential rains leading to highly destructive floods. Various degrees of flood waters during and after rains have been witnessed in almost every part of the country regardless of geography.
The Nigerian coastal lines are naturally low against sea level and are about 853km long, running through seven southern states of Lagos, Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross Rivers. Lagos, one of the states situated less than 2 metres above sea level has been projected with a propensity to be the worst hit in case of flooding.
As a result, some state-sponsored activities considered a potential threat to the well-being of dwellers of the coastal city, like dredging and sand-filling activities associated with the creation of ocean side megacities, like the elitist Banana Island, Eko Atlantic City and Lekki, according to experts, are capable of creating flood-occasioned imbalances in the ecosystem. Other states ranking alongside Lagos, as highly probable flood-prone states, according to the 2022 AFO, include, Adamawa, Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross-River, Delta, Ebonyi, Ekiti, Edo states. Also listed were, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Pain, Oyo, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, Gombe Zamfara and the FCT. According to the Director-General of the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA), Clement Nze during the presentation of the year 2022 annual flood outlook, the anticipated incidents of flood disasters pose significant impacts on population, agriculture, livelihood, livestock, infrastructure and environment. Frighteningly, a casual look at the list of potentially endangered states shows a highly devastating history of flooding in the past.
One of them, Adamawa, in the Northwest, recorded seven deaths and some 74,713 people displaced in 79 villages across 16 local governments, according to the State’s Emergency Management Agency. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNCHA), had averred that over 100,000 people were affected. The Federal Capital Territory is a hinterland topography on the list of highly floodable cities on the 2022 AFO, with a history of destructive Floods. In September 2021, a preliminary report of FCT’s Emergency Management Authority (FEMA), in a post-crisis evaluation, announced that four people lost their lives and 26 vehicles were swept away, leaving about 200 houses destroyed after torrential rains left parts of the capital city submerged for days.
The Abuja flooding last year, according to FEMA, was caused by the violation of authorised building codes and blockage of drainages through the erection of illegal structures. It could be seen that all states listed in the 2022 AFO suffered grave consequences of injustices to the environment, even when the 2021 AFO were not as stern in terms of warnings against an impending flood disaster. Flooding, over the years, having assumed a recurring dimension, not only on the coastlines but also in other noncoastal areas, poses a great danger to the achievement of globally embraced sustainable development goals.
Every expert weather projection and forecast must be held sacrosanct, to avoid a worsening repeat of last year’s disaster. The AFO, a seasonal climate report/ forecast, launched after the 2012 nationwide floods, in which losses were put at a modest 18 billion US Dollars, is set to live up to the rating as the accuracy of the seasonal climate report (SCR) available to the government and people of Nigeria has received global recognition for its accuracy.
Disasters in line with expert’s predictions
Invariably, the manner and succession of recent flood tragedies are a confirmation of the accuracy of Ni- MET’s 2021 and February 2022 predictions. Observers have argued that the near-famine dimension of food shortages being experienced nationwide may not be dissociated from the spate of flood water disasters of the previous year and concluded, in instructing, that the nation be set for a more devastating outcome for the year 2022 unless the measure is put in place to forestall an exacerbated repeat of last years. Between August 11 and 26th, seven people were reported killed and over 74,000 displaced across 16 local governments covering 79 villages.
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), averred that varying degrees of destruction were reported of homes and properties while residents took shelter elsewhere away from their homes until the waters receded. Barely a month after the Adamawa current, Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory, believed to have some of the best urban planning designs and infrastructure, also witnessed its share of the accuracy of NiMET’s Flood water prediction, as almost 200 houses were destroyed by flooding, claiming four lives and sweeping 26 vehicles away. A driver who had witnessed the Adamawa floods said, “The flood was so high that it nearly swallowed my car. It was scary.
I have never seen that amount of flood in my life,” said 42-year-old Thomas Adigun, an Oyo State born resident of Yola. Also recently in the Bauchi- Gombe Expressway, a downpour which lasted hours was reported to have washed off a section of the highway, thereby prolonging journey time on the route by an additional 150kms, as commuters were left with no other alternative route than the Bauch-Darazo-Duku- Gomber road.
No lives were lost immediately to the asphalt-washing rain storms, but fears are ripe for the safety of commuters as the alternative route is said to be terrorist infested. Another state with a history of devastating floods which has also been mentioned in the latest AFO is Kebbi. To cushion the effect of excessive rain that had submerged thousands of hectares of farmlands, the government had raised an SOS call on donors and well-spirited entities for aid and assistance, for the farmers to engage in a belated dry season farming in 2020. About 5000 properties, worth billions of naira of farm produce were destroyed.
It is however instructive to note and be held as valid the assertion that, the wanton destruction of lives, properties and farmlands as witnessed in 2021 is a direct attestation of the accuracy of the 202O AFO. The recent frightening reports of flooding in some parts of the country are coming at about the same period of the year, witnessed some of the most devastating events of dry land submergence and with impacts on housing, public health, food security and private and public expenditure, is another ominous indication of the verity of the precision of the 2022 climate reports from the MET office. It is the rainy season once again, a period when the country regularly experience flood disasters and communities that depend on water ecosystem for sustenance and socio-economic wellbeing may be most affected. Urban and semi-urban areas with inadequate drainage systems, inappropriate waste disposal culture and a penchant for disregarding laid down municipal development plans are highly prone to flood losses.
Lagos warns residents on compliance
The coastal nature of Lagos State, coupled with state-executed dredging and landfill undertakings are valid ingredients of destructive flooding. The state, having witnessed some of the worst incidences of oceanic tidal surges, relapsing rainwater bodies, forming floods; and illegal mining, against which the government has repeatedly cautioned members of the public engaging in them, places the state at high risk of flooding as accentuated in the 2022 AFO. Recently, the government of Lagos State warned a popular family in the city, to henceforth desist from any untoward acts particularly the ill-advised excavation in their end of the state or face stiff sanctions from the state government.
The Commissioner for Physical Planning and Urban Development, Dr Idris Salako, during a visit to an illegal excavation site, warned the Onikosi family, to desist from such environmental injustices of the danger it poses to the environment and humanity, or face stiff sanctions from the government. The prerequisite administrative and political will to execute directives and ensure compliance with environmental laws is key to achieving the much-touted sustainable development goals. It is nevertheless not a surprise to note that of the 17 sustainable development failures, nine of them are fluid and water-related.
Being a coastal city with other parts of the hinterland equally water logged, all hands must be on deck to pursue the latter, as a shortcut to a sustainable healthy ecosystem, the stipulated developmental goals are to achieve a safe environment, to ensure healthy living in a safe environment. Overflowing street gutters, indiscriminate refuse dumping, arbitrary erection of structures on flood paths and drainages, dredging, reclamation and disobedience to laid down urban planning models are all dangerous causes of flooding in Lagos State, but the worst of them all is the disobedience to informed forecast and projections such as the AFO 2022.
A judicious application of the knowledge shared by NEMA, NiMET and the NHSA, in the form of weather forecasts, seasonal or periodic climate prediction and the flood water outlooks, AFO, would go a long way as a determinant of how Lagos and the entire country would fare as the rainy season gets underway.