Sunday, August 14, 2016

Averting the looming flood disaster in Nigeria

A war foretold does not kill a wise cripple – Yoruba proverb.

It has been said repeatedly that Nigeria is at a threshold of witnessing another flood disaster comparable to, if not worse than, what the country experienced in 2012. On Monday, August 8, 2016, Nigerian Meteorological Agency in its latest flood alert said “After thorough analyses of rainfall data from our observatories nationwide for June and July, we wish to provide the following information and advisories to the public, especially those in the affected areas. Soil moisture has either reached saturation, or near saturation levels due to cumulative high intensity rainfall in some parts of the country in June and July. The affected states include Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Delta, Kaduna, Kwara, Nasarawa, Yobe and Zamfara. This means that floods should be expected in these areas because the soil is no longer able to absorb more rainwater in the coming weeks which coincide with the peak of the rainy season.”

Two days earlier, precisely on Saturday, August 6, 2016, the National Emergency Management Agency announced that flood alerts from the Republic of Niger, on the rise in the water level of its river, had shown that any time from now, Nigeria might suffer severe floods. It stated that research had shown that the looming floods might be similar to what was experienced in many states in 2012, which began in July that year and killed 363 people, while over 2.1 million others were displaced. NEMA described the 2012 floods as the worst in 40 years, as it affected an estimated total of seven million people while the damages and losses caused by the floods were put at N2.6tn.

In the opinion of the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, “The floods are already here as River Niger, River Benue, Kainji Dam and the confluence of water bodies in Lokoja have all overflowed their various banks.” According to the agency, the above mentioned water bodies overflowed their banks on Monday, August 8, 2016, adding that various agencies were currently struggling to impound the floods, which in a matter of days shall be felt in many more locations across the country. In a circular with reference number MWR/NIHSA/EH/S/1/37, signed by its Director-General, Moses Beckley, NIHSA made it clear that the flooding situations at the upper reach of the River Niger portended imminent danger for Nigeria in the coming weeks and months.

Indeed, the floods are here. They hit six local government areas of Kano State last week where over 5, 300 houses were destroyed.  Alhaji Aliyu Bashir, the Executive Secretary of the State Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation Agency disclosed this in an interview in Kano on Monday, August 8. He said the affected local government areas include Bebeji, Dawakin Kudu, Kiru, Shanono, Bagwai and Garun-Malam. “In Dawakin Kudu alone more than 2, 300 houses were affected, while more than 600 houses in each of the remaining five areas were destroyed by the flood,” he said. Three persons reportedly lost their lives while food and cash crops worth millions of Naira were washed away after a heavy down pour at Hayin Gwarmai village in Bebeji Local Government Area of the state.

There is no gainsaying that things can progressively move from bad to worse if urgent steps are not taken by people and government to salvage the situation. Different government agencies have warned and we have seen the onset of flooding, shall we stand akimbo and watch helplessly? What can we do to address the situation? NiMet has advised governments, communities and individuals in these vulnerable parts of the country to take proactive actions such as clearing water channels and drainages, and avoiding activities that block the free flow of flood water. It has further advised that relevant agencies should perfect their emergency evacuation plans and activate them as soon as necessary.

Worthy counsel you would say, however, going by our legendary tardiness and fire brigade approach to issues, I would not be surprised if at the end of this raining season we still count hundreds of lives lost and trillions of Naira properties destroyed by flood. It’s just in our character to ignore early warning disaster forecast.  Sad, so very sad!  Most of our problems are not caused by nature but self-inflicted. When people build on water channels, block drainages with solid waste and fail to clean their environment, is it not common sense that those are recipe for flood disaster? I know we are very religious people. A praying nation.  Highly superstitious and always blaming every misfortune on devil and his army of evil-wreckers. We love to bind and cast out demons even when the situation simply calls for proactive action.  Before we go to prayer mountain to avert the impending flood, let’s first clean up our environment. Let’s clear water channels of debris. Let’s move away from our abode at the river banks. These are simple precautionary measures urgently needed. Nothing however stops us from backing up the aforementioned actions with prayers, if we so wish. However, prayer alone will not give us desired result in this matter.

Another major flooding in this ‘technically’ recessed economy is one thing this fragile country can ill afford. I sincerely do not wish to have any addition to millions of already internally displaced persons as a result of insurgency in North East Nigeria. I pray against avoidable loss of human lives and properties. I wish all and sundry will proactively act to avert the looming flood disaster. It’s in our national interest to do so. It makes no sense to use lean resources meant for infrastructure development to cater for IDPs and compensate flood victims when we could have averted it ab-initio.  Prevention, it is said, is better than cure and a stitch in time saves nine. We can jointly work to avert the flood and that should be our topmost priority now.

Jide is the Executive Director of OJA Development Consult.