Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Will Nigeria avert flooding in 2013?

It is rainy season again and it comes with mixed feelings. It is that time of the year when people rejoice at the cool weather that affords them an opportunity of peaceful night rest even when the Power Holding Company of Nigeria seizes electricity thereby denying them opportunity of putting on their air-conditioning systems and fans. In an environment where there is a scarcity of water, the rainy season provides the opportunity of storage of rain water for domestic use. The farmers also jubilate at the advent of rain as it helps their crops to grow. Rain water is however only desirable in moderation otherwise the havoc its excess causes is dreadful. Torrential rainfall causes flooding which kills, maims and destroys. My first experience of flooding was in 1980 when Ogunpa River in Ibadan wreaked disaster that led to hundreds of death, collapsed buildings, washing away of roads, uprooting of trees, among others. The ancient city of Ibadan was also visited by flash flooding on August 26, 2011 when a seven-hour downpour resulted in loss of lives and property in the state capital. The death toll in the Ibadan flood was estimated by the Red Cross at over 100 while properties worth billions of naira were also lost to the deluge. The University of Ibadan alone claimed to have lost over N10bn worth of assets.
By far a mega-disaster was what the country experienced between September and October 2012 when many states experienced a tsunami-like flooding. Worse affected states include Adamawa, Oyo, Kogi, Anambra, Bayelsa, Delta, Benue and Plateau. According to the National Emergency Management Agency, 363 persons lost their lives while properties worth N2.6tr were destroyed during last year’s floods. Also, NEMA said 2.3 million people were totally displaced across the country as the floods destroyed 600,000 houses while several acres of farmlands were also washed off. Children were most affected by the floods as many schools were destroyed forcing the children out of schools for months.
I recall witnessing the negative impact of the 2012 floods in Benue State during an official visit to the state last October. The Benue River was filled to the brim thereby submerging houses close to the river bank. The Benue State University as well as the Benue Links Motor Park was also not spared. I also saw the internally displaced people being camped in a very unsafe and unhygienic environment like schools where some of the victims were alleged to have been robbed and raped though the Benue State government debunked that.
It will be recalled that River Niger also overflowed its bank submerging a portion of the Abuja–Lokoja road leaving travellers trapped for days while others had to make detours to ply the unmotorable Jebba-Bida-Mokwa-Abuja road. Yenagoa, the capital of Bayelsa State, was practically under water arising from the effect of the 2012 floods while President Goodluck Jonathan’s residence in Otuoke, his hometown, was also flooded. The East-West Road was also rendered impassable for days as a result of the downpour. The governors of the affected states were so overwhelmed with the challenge occasioned by the flooding that many of them had to cry out to the Federal Government for assistance. President Jonathan in a broadcast to the nation last October announced a total amount of N17.6bn relief package to tackle the floods. N13.3bn was allocated to the affected states while Federal Government agencies whose activities directly impact on the flood amelioration programme got N4.3bn.
Of course, committees were also set up with the last one being the Presidential Flood Relief and Rehabilitation Committee, co-chaired by business octopus, Alhaji Aliko Dangote, and former president of the Nigeria Bar Association, Olisa Agbakoba, SAN. The Dangote-Agbakoba committee held N100b fundraiser last November. Unfortunately, not only that the committee realised far less than the targeted amount, many of those who pledged financial support reportedly defaulted in redeeming their pledges. About N11.35bn of those pledges has yet to be redeemed even as the defaulters are currently enjoying the attached tax incentives. Trust some unscrupulous Nigerians to take undue advantage of even a calamitous situation! The Presidential Flood Relief and Rehabilitation Committee had recently given the defaulters up until June 30, 2013 for them to pay up or face being named and shamed via the print and electronic media.
Now, have we learnt any lesson from last year’s unfortunate incident? It is most doubtful. The Nigeria Meteorological Agency again published its seasonal rainfall prediction for 2013 in February with a serious early warning that this year’s rainfall may be more than last year’s and that flooding looms in about 12 states. Even though the rainy season has since started with report of downpour in some flood-prone states, it remains to be seen what preventive measures some of these state governments have put in place to forestall a recurrence of what happened last year. An adage says once bitten, twice shy.
It will be a national shame if in spite of the early warning by NIMET a foretold tragedy is not checked. It is true some states have taken some measures like clearing the drainage and canals, but will that be sufficient? What about the earth-dams the Federal Government was supposed to build to ensure that when Cameroon releases water from her over-filled dams, the ripple effect is minimised on Nigerians? How many people in the coastal areas likely to be affected by flood have been relocated to upland areas by the various state governments? How well-funded are the National Emergency Management Agency, State Emergency Management Agencies and Local Government Emergency Management Committees? How many people have been sensitised to disaster preventive measures and what to do in terms of disaster management?
Early warning demands early action and as the saying goes, a war foretold does not kill a wise cripple. Flooding may be a natural disaster but it is not totally unpreventable. We can preempt and contain it if adequate and proper measures are taken on time. The aftermath of last year’s deluge has yet to be fully redressed; should another one happen this year, I hope it will not totally cripple the country’s economy. Flooding does not discriminate; it affects the poor and the rich. Last year, the rich also cried when their River-view, Sea-view and Ocean-view estates were submerged in floods. Whether Nigeria will escape the looming disaster depends on you and me. Let us all do our best possible to avert another flooding in 2013!