The rains are here again, and with them is the perennial problem of flooding. In the last three weeks, this has affected many states in the country, causing loss of lives, displacement of hundreds of people, and huge material losses. The early warning by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) appears to have gone unheeded by both government and people in the affected areas in taking precautionary measures. At least fifteen people were killed in the Lagos flood, while in Nasarawa, Oyo, Borno, Benue and Jigawa states, among others, several households were affected. Climate change, overflowing or burst dams, blocked waterways and drainages and poor town planning are among factors blamed for the aggravation of the problem.
In Lagos, which often suffers from periodic spell of heavy downpour, the flood destroyed vast tracts of farmlands, buildings submerged while many vehicles broke down on flooded roads. The authorities ordered all schools shut. Last year, similar flooding in parts of Lagos and Ibadan killed many, destroyed houses and damaged roads and caused bridges to collapse. In Lafia, the Nasarawa state capital, the rains caused the collapsed of private school while it was in session, killing seven pupils. Last year, dam failure in Sokoto state led to massive flooding that destroyed the bridge linking the Usmanu Danfodio University and the Sokoto city centre. Houses and farmlands were washed away.
Officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) believe that floods are the most common of all natural hazards, claiming several lives annually. Meteorologists predict more floods in the coming days.
The amazing thing is that while the dangers are well-known and even predictable, no effective countermeasures are taken until the disaster begins to unfold. Often it is residents of the affected communities who resist efforts at evacuating them. However, the Lagos State Government and NIMET have warned residents to brace themselves for more rain that could last until the third week of July, and advised over 10 flood-prone communities to vacate their areas. Earlier, the Lagos State Government had identified 623 flood-prone schools. Other state governments have also been issuing warnings and threatening to demolish buildings that breached town planning rules.
The human factors in these floods, including incessant dumping of refuse in drains and on major roads, and erecting buildings on waterways, can be curtailed by municipal authorities to reduce the possibility of flooding. Some state governments have resorted to demolishing buildings in unauthorised areas; but breaches of town planning codes continue because officials are bribed to look the other way.
For now, government should take measure against the likely outbreak of deadly diseases, such as cholera and diarrhoea, which are common at this time of the year.
The rains have also worsened condition of the country's roads. The government's Rural Road Access and Mobility Project disclosed that 85 per cent of Nigerian secondary and tertiary roads are in bad shape, with 70 per cent of local government roads impassable. This contrasts sharply with the over 1 trillion naira that the government claims it earmarked for road repairs. The money would be considered well-spent if the roads withstood several rainy seasons.
The key to effective management of the rainy season that brings flooding is for governments at all levels to be more proactive in taking measures to contain the damage that comes with it. Beside the construction of canals and drainages, provision of refuse bins should also be considered in strategic locations where people can dump their waste. Public awareness is crucial, and this is one area the National Orientation Agency can play an important role. It is also important that state and municipal authorities re-invigorate their environmental inspectorate divisions to enforce public compliance with waste disposal guidelines. Citizens who live in flood-prone areas need to cultivate the habit of monitoring weather reports and forecast, and to promptly evacuate when danger looms or are advised to do so.