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Saving Nigeria From Devastating Floods

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The National Emergency Management Agency of Nigeria (NEMA) was established via Act 12, as amended by Act 50 of 1999, to manage disasters in Nigeria. Yet, it is easy to assume that either the level of disaster management required for the job of tackling and ameliorating the impacts of these disasters on Nigerians is beyond the capacity of the agency or that it has not been effective in the measures that it put in place to curtail the effects of the disasters.

These were the polar ideas that assailed my consciousness as I followed the coverage of the scale of this year’s flooding in the media. Entire towns and cities were submerged, some up and above roof levels, as stranded citizens bewailed their predicaments to anyone who cared enough to listen. While there were places where the flood was not too deep for those affected to wade precariously through on foot, other areas where entire buildings had gone under required the employment of unregulated canoes and boats as the only means of transportation, without life jackets and vests.

The immediate dangers were all too obvious and it did not take long before news reports of capsized boats and deaths were broadcast. In some other cases, such that was prevalent in Plateau State, there was an uptick in the instances of snakebites, as these water-based reptiles competed for resources with citizens battling the attendant effects of their predicament. This regrettable story has been compounded by limited mobility and a shortage of Anti-Snake Venom (ASV), making the number of victims to increase.

Naturally queries have turned to causes and origins. Why has flooding become such a perennial issue to the scale that it has advanced to such devastation this year? Even victims of flooding, who experienced the impact of the 2012 floods, previously the worst recorded flooding event in Nigeria’s history, and the destruction caused by the 2021 floods, have admitted that the overall devastation this year has been unmatched on all levels. The images of the devastation tell the story, but those scenes are supported by data.

With no fewer than at least 20 of the 36 States in the country impacted at different levels of severity, the flood affected millions of adults and children across the states in the country, leaving hundreds of thousands displaced, according to reports.

However, the most significant statistics highlighting the queries around the alarming nature of these ruinous floods pertained to the irreplaceable loss of human lives. The official count, which traditionally falls short of the reality, puts the figure of deaths directly attributable to the floods to be over 600.

What could possibly have been at the origin of the floodwaters to cause such havoc remained on the tip of the tongues of most Nigerians, following reports of the destruction left in its wake.

In the course of carrying out its duty to inform the nation of disaster-related events, NEMA fingered the release of excess water considered surplus to requirements from the Cameroonian Lagdo Dam. The Director-General of the Agency, Mustapha Ahmed, added that even more severe flooding is expected in some states, including Adamawa, Taraba, Benue, Niger, Nasarawa, Kebbi, Kogi, Edo, Delta, Anambra, Cross River, Rivers and Bayelsa, courtesy of the dam’s reservoir.

However, the attribution of the flooding to reservoir excess from Lagdo was roundly denied by Engr. Suleiman Hussein Adamu, the Honourable Minister of Water Resources.

Adamu claimed that just one per cent of the destructive floodwaters swamped the affected states from the dam, with the assertion that as much as 80 per cent being the result of what he uncharitably termed “blessings from God from the sky”.

The minister was adamant in holding that the floods were from a predicted rise in the volume of rainfall and seemed at pain to deflect the blame from anything to do with dam waters from neighbouring Cameroon.

The rationale for his insistence may not be removed from the destruction that trailed the previous flooding of 2012 when Cameroon offloaded the dam of excess water and flooded coastal states, leaving incalculable damage to people, homes and farmlands in its wake.

The level of devastation had forced the Nigerian Government to enter a Memorandum of Understanding with its Cameroonian counterparts that necessitated the latter to provide a timely heads up to the Federal Government of Nigeria before releasing reservoir waters from their dam.

Evidently Cameroon did not consider this necessary because agreements reached with Nigeria before the northern Cameroon-based Lagdo Dam, which was started in 1977 and completed in 1992, was that Nigeria was going to dam her own side of the river along the Adamawa border all the way to Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo, Anambra, Kogi and Benue States to prevent any destructions from water released downriver from the Cameroon end.

The Nigerian dam, called the Dadin Hausa Dam in Adamawa State, was actually started before it was abandoned. Forty years after the completion of the Lagdo Dam, it is still not finished and flood control measures have not been put in place to handle a duration situation where the reservoir is emptied of excess water since the destruction of 2012, even with the Minister of Water Resources’ excuse that the release of the dam water was not to be considered a factor in this year’s floods.

What is not in doubt however is that, whether from the dam or from “blessings from God from the sky”, the human role in worsening climate conditions has amplified the damage that annual rainfalls ordinarily cause.

The warnings have largely gone unheeded in many parts of the globe and we are all going to have to come to terms with rising sea levels, driven by melting glaciers and ice caps and the thermal expansion of water, which are all increasing the inundation of coastal areas with flood waters.

The circumstances are made worse by warmer temperatures, which are causing more moisture to accumulate in the atmosphere and get released as rain or snow. What we get therefore are flash floods from severe bursts of rain that cause mayhem and heighten the risk of large swathes of land swallowed by the water.

This is the origin of what we have witnessed in Nigeria. Yet, Nigeria is scarcely alone in the devastation.

This October, heavy rains in southeastern Australia forced thousands of people from their homes as floods have affected at least 16 rivers in the states of New South Wales and Victoria, as well as the island state of Tasmania with residents bracing for what is forecast to be the worst flood in 150 years.

This is the second time in 11 years that residents have had to prepare for a “one-in-100-years” flood. In Thailand, intense rain has continued to the point where 59 of the country’s 77 provinces have already been hit by floods affecting about 450,000 homes and more than 100,000 hectares of farmland and the authorities have reportedly earmarked about 23bn baht (£538m) for assistance. Some residents have described the recent storms as the worst the island had experienced in 30 years.

The story is the same across coastal countries, but the difference is the government’s response. As in the case of Thailand, where millions have been budgeted to handle relief, there is little to no demonstration of government interest in the plight of those devastated by the floods. In the most obvious show of disinterest, President Muhammadu Buhari jetted off to a summit in South Korea while Nigerians in more than 21 States were reeling from the pangs of loss and destitution that the floods left them in. As the Commander in Chief, with the authority to send the military and armed forces into relief action and remedial measures, it remains unclear if the president gave a fiat order to the military to assist victims before his departure to Asia. I must however acknowledge that the Air Force swung into action a few days later taking relief materials to those in the heart of the devastation.

In my view, one of the solutions to the flooding disaster is the immediate completion of the Dadin Hausa Dam. NEMA should also comprehensively review their disaster management implementation while they must be well funded and equipped to carry out their responsibilities.

Federal and state governments must protect and defend flood plains. The building of resilient infrastructure to secure farmlands and residential areas, the construction of flood barriers, using modern designs and technology, while actual dredging of the major rivers to accommodate perennial rise in water levels with excessive rainfall must be carried out as a matter of urgency coupled with the opening of proper drainage channels across floods regions to quickly channel potential flood water and keep residences and farmlands out of harm’s way.

I sympathise with the victims of the floods, especially those who lost their homes and belongings. Cases of diarrhoea and water-borne diseases, respiratory infection and skin diseases have already been on the rise.

In the northeastern states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe alone, a total of 7,485 cases of cholera and 319 associated deaths were reported as of October 12, 2022, according to the United Nations, with 60 per cent of those in need being children. There is the threat of food scarcity in the coming months with the level of destruction of farmlands which will be terrible for an economy in the throes of inflationary conditions. Government must find a way to support all those hurt by the flooding as they rebuild their lives.

I reiterate my belief that Nigeria has all the indices to surmount all its challenges if we appoint or elect the right people into positions of authority.

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