Managing flood disasters in Nigeria

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Hajia Amina mohammed, Nigeria's Minister of Environment
Hajia Amina mohammed, Nigeria’s Minister of Environment

By Dayo Komolafe

From all indications, the onset of this year’s rainy season would have elicited mixed reactions from people across different sections of the country.

To a large majority of citizens, particularly farmers, the season signals a joyful moment, the beginning of the planting season.

However, to others living along the banks of River Niger, River Benue and other flood-prone neighbourhoods, the onset of a rainy season is a time to brood over the potential menace of flooding.

This is because the beginning of the rainy season always reminds the hapless people of the unfortunate incident in 2012 when floods inundated a lot of communities in several states across the country.

Environmentalists describe 2012 flood as the worst in the country in decades, as it affected about 30 states and led to the death of more than 431 persons, while over two million were forced to relocate from their homes.

In 2012, a lot of farmlands were also washed away and the economic losses occasioned by the flood were estimated to be in the region of N2.6 trillion.

Heavy rains provoked the flood which caused major rivers like River Niger and River Benue to burst their banks and submerge vast stretches of lands across the country for lengthy periods.

The situation then was so grave at that time that it compelled former President Goodluck Jonathan to describe it as a “national disaster’’, while initiating some palliative measures to soothe the pains of those affected.

Four years have passed since the 2012 incident and the affected citizens have been trying to cope with their day-to-day challenges of life but now, there are palpable fears about the recurrence of the flood due to a recent warning by Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet).

A statement signed by Eva Azinge, Head, Corporate Communications, Public Relations Unit, National Weather Forecasting and Climate Research Centre of NiMet, said that 11 states could experience floods following a detailed analysis of rainfall data from the agency’s observatories nationwide.

The states are Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Benue, Borno, Cross River, Delta, Kaduna, Kwara, Nasarawa, Yobe and Zamfara.

It said that the prediction was based on the cumulative high intensity rainfall in those parts of the country between June and July, adding that judging from the current rainfall patterns, there were prospects of flooding in August and October.

It said that the analyses of rainfall data from NiMet observatories nationwide for June and July revealed that soil moisture had either reached saturation, or near saturation levels because of cumulative high intensity rainfall in some parts of the country in June and July.

“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 rainy season.

“Flooding could still be experienced in such areas; particularly those that are naturally prone to flooding.’’

NiMet, via the statement, said that the 2016 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) identified parts of North West and South West geopolitical zones as well as low-lying areas of the country as particularly vulnerable to flooding during this year’s rainy season.

It said that these observations and projections were also in agreement with the 2016 Annual Flood Outlook which was released by the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency.

“NiMet, therefore, advises governments, communities and individuals in these vulnerable parts of the country to take proactive actions, such as clearing water channels, drainages, and avoid activities that will block the free flow of waters.

“Closer attention should also be paid to NiMet’s daily weather forecasts and alerts,’’ the statement added.

The situation appears quite grim, as National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has also predicted flood in the River Niger basin in the country on a level akin to 2012 incident.

The Director-General of NEMA, Malam Muhammad Sani-Sidi, said that NEMA had received alerts of the flood from information given by the authorities in the Republic of Niger that the current water level in the river had reached a point which might trigger flooding on a scale that was similar to that of 2012.

Sani-Sidi emphasised that the level of water in all the hydrological monitoring stations across the country as at Friday, Aug. 5, underscored the need for all governments and stakeholders to initiate prompt and coordinated actions to forestall emergencies.

“If the heavy rainfall continues in intensity and duration within these regions of the River Niger, it is imminent that flood situation, similar to that of the year 2012, may occur,” he added.

Moreover, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) warned that there would be flooding in 14 states and urged residents living in flood-prone areas of the states to relocate to safer neighbourhoods.

The Director-General of NIHSA, Mr Moses Beckley, who gave the warning when he presented the 2016 Annual Flood Outlook in Abuja, listed the states as Lagos, Rivers, Calabar, Benue, Sokoto, Anambra, Imo, Cross River, Yobe, Ogun, Osun, Kaduna, Oyo and Adamawa.

He also observed that some coastal cities such as Lagos, Port Harcourt and Calabar would experience heavy floods due to the rise in sea levels and tidal surge.

In view of these warnings, what steps are the governments of the flood-prone states taking to tackle the potential and perceptible threats of flood and its attendant emergencies in the states?

In Kogi, a state that underwent a harrowing experience during the 2012 flooding, the government has adopted a holistic approach to tackle perennial flooding in nine local government areas bordering Rivers Niger and Benue.

The Commissioner for Environment, Mrs Rosemary Osikoya, said that the move would also cover those communities that were prone to flash floods.

She said that the approach was a product of a stakeholders’ meeting convened by the state government on July 12, adding that NEMA, State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), local government councils, Red Cross as well as relevant government ministries, departments and agencies attended the meeting.

Osikoya confirmed that the state government actually received a flood warning alert from NEMA on impending flood, saying that government had since constituted an on-the-spot assessment team to visit those communities that were likely to be affected.

She said that the team had estimated the number of people as well as the crops and animals that would be affected, while identifying spots that would be used as camps for flood victims.

Besides, the commissioner said that people living along river banks had been sensitised to what to do in case of emergency and advised to relocate to upland for their safety.

Osikoya said that the state government, through the Ministry of Water Resources, had also been monitoring the water level in the Niger and Benue rivers on a daily basis “so that our people will not be caught unawares.

“As at Aug. 20, the water level is 4.7 metres, if it gets to 7 metres, the river is likely to overflow its banks and trigger flood,’’ she said.

Beyond that, Osikoya said that drugs and other materials had been stockpiled in the government warehouse, ready for distribution to the camps being planned for displaced persons in the event of flood.

She, nonetheless, grumbled that the issues surrounding the 2012 flood disaster in Kogi were grossly mismanaged by the previous administration, moaning that her ministry inherited no report and documentation on the incident.

Osikoya alleged that the 276 housing units in the 2012 post-flood housing estate in Lokoja had been allocated to politicians and other illegal occupants, vowing that the aberration would be rectified very soon.

She explained that the estate was essentially meant to accommodate those living along river banks whose houses had been slated for demolition

As a result of the NEMA alert, people have started relocating from flood-prone areas in Niger to safer grounds.

The Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, Mr Jonathan Vatsa, said the action became imperative to guard against a situation where lives and property would be lost due to flash floods.

“We are aware that the people living downstream of Kainji, Jebba and Shiroro dams are often more vulnerable.

“The government is appealing to them to move upland till the rain subsides because we cannot afford the kind of loss we recorded in the past,” he added.

All the same, several communities in Niger have heeded the warning and relocated from their flood-prone locations to safer places.

In Cross River, one of the states listed in the NiMet alert sheet, flooding has been a recurrent problem.

In Agwagune community in Biase Local Government Area of the state, for instance, flooding has been a perennial problem.

In the community, which can only be accessed by canoes during the rainy season, hundreds of houses have been destroyed by natural disasters, while thousands of households and persons have been displaced over time.

The federal and state governments have embarked on a housing project for the people but the housing units have yet to be completed.

However, Mr Joe Obi-Bissong, the Senior Special Assistant to the Governor on Environment, said that following the NEMA warning, the Cross River State Government had been striving to identify all the flood-prone areas in the state.

He said that the government would also liaise with the Federal Ministry of Environment in efforts to tackle the impending crisis with a view to mitigating its effects.

Nevertheless, Mr David Akate, the Deputy Director (Information), Cross River State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA), said that the agency had carried out a lot of public awareness activities to sensitise communities to their expectations in the event of flooding.

More than 11, out of the 27 local government areas of Jigawa, are facing the threat of flood, according to Malam Yusuf Sani Babura, Executive Secretary of Jigawa State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA).

Babura, nonetheless, told a news conference in Dutse that the state government would strive to heed the NiMet’s warning.

He noted that the flood alert indicated that communities adjacent to River Hadejia and River Jama’are were potential victims of the flood disaster, saying that the warning compelled SEMA to initiate an enlightenment campaign to sensitise the communities to the looming danger.

Babura said that apart from staging a media campaign, SEMA officials had visited some community heads and local government chairmen to inform them on the need to use some primary schools during emergencies.

These multifaceted preparations notwithstanding, some states have already started experiencing flooding.

This is because even though disasters are preventable with adequate precautionary measures, natural phenomena like flooding are somewhat unavoidable, some analysts say.

In Kano State, for instance, over 5,300 houses in six local government areas were reportedly destroyed in a recent flood.

Alhaji Aliyu Bashir, Executive Secretary, Kano State Emergency Relief and Rehabilitation Agency, who disclosed this in Kano recently, said that the affected local government areas included Bebeji, Dawakin Kudu, Kiru, Shanono, Bagwai and Garun-Malam.

Bashir said the officials of the agency had visited all the affected areas, adding: “At the moment, we are compiling a comprehensive report on the disaster for onward submission to the federal and state governments for necessary assistance to the victims.’’

Similarly, Maru community in Zamfara recently encountered serious flooding which dislodged more than 801 persons from their homes.

Alhaji Sanusi Mohammed, the Executive Secretary of Zamfara State Emergency Agency (SEMA), said that the affected persons included 180 women and 621 children, adding that 52 houses as well as several farmlands were also destroyed.

He said that NEMA and SEMA officials had visited Maru community for on-the-spot assessment.

He called on the residents of the state to refrain from blocking the drains and erecting structures on waterways so as to avoid similar disasters.

All in all, analysts urge the government, its agencies and all stakeholders to make concerted, pragmatic efforts to address the growing menace of floods across the country, while sensitising the citizens to their various expectations before, during and after the geographical phenomenon.

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