31 December 2012

Nigeria: Flood - the Avoidable Disaster in Retrospect

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The horrible experience garnered from the unprecedented floods across the country is one that the country will obviously take time to recover from as lives and property worth millions of Naira were lost. GLORIA USMAN in this report writes that the unfortunate events would have been averted if concerned stakeholders were alive to their responsibilities.

When the Nigerian Meteorological Agency, NIMET, early this year warned about imminent heavy rainfall and the attendant flooding in most parts of the country, especially the coastal zone and river catchment areas, this warning was either ignored or not taken seriously. The Agency had through its director-general, Dr Anthony Anuforo, urged the relevant emergency agencies, state governments and the federal government to create awareness in the affected areas in order to reduce damages and loss of lives and property. According to NIMET, Warri will have the highest length of rainfall season with 247 days and 2,649mm of rainfall, which would start from March 7 to November 8, 2012, followed by Ibadan with 246 days and 1,275mm of rainfall.

Anuforom stated that "for the hydrological and water resources sector, this implies adequate water and stream-flows which may affect the dam storage for municipal water supply, hydro-power generation and irrigation. Hence, development and regular maintenance of dams for dry season irrigation and water supply should be accorded high priority."

He stressed that the episodic flooding and erosion in the coastal zone and river catchment areas might be inevitable and as such, adequate publicity would be required to reduce damages and the risk of losing lives and property, especially in areas prone to river bank overflows. Furthermore, he stated that the predicted normal rainfall may result in flash flooding, particularly in the northern states.

Such flash floods according to NIMET might lead to physical damage to crops in the field, agricultural equipment and structures (such as dams), as well as physical damage to infrastructures - roads, railway lines and telecommunication networks. Also, loss of lives and displacement of large population due to the disruption of agricultural activities as a result of the extreme weather is very likely.

Early in August, NIMET again issued another fresh warning, telling Nigerians to clear their drains because of imminent heavy rainstorms that might lead to serious flooding between August and October of 2012. A release signed by Mr Eleazar Obende of the Agency's Public Relations Unit stated thus: "In keeping with the mandate to monitor the 2012 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction, SRP, and give updates as and when necessary, NIMET has observed wetter-than-normal soil surface moisture and groundwater conditions in some parts of the country over the past 12 months.

"The Northern section of the country will experience peak rainfall during August to October season, the effect of the wetter-than-normal conditions observed is the prospects of the occurrence of above-normal rainfall, which may lead to surface run-off."

Also, the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) issued a press statement, dated September 10, 2012 on the imminent disaster. It reads in part: "The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) has ordered an immediate evacuation of citizens living along the River Niger plains. This alert comes because the dams have attained their highest water levels in 29 years which is unprecedented in the history of Jebba and Kainji hydroelectric power dams. The threat has created a high risk of imminent flooding in the downstream of the river.

"The residents of the communities are urged to move to higher grounds for safety. The states at risk of the flood are Niger, Kogi, Kwara, Kebbi, Anambra and Delta."

It reads further: "Already the agency has notified the affected states to take the necessary precautionary measures by relocating people from the flood prone areas and activated the National Contingency Plan as well as alerted all stakeholders to take necessary actions in line with their various mandates. The states are to ensure compliance with the threat in order to avert imminent loss of lives and properties that would certainly arise in the event of flooding. Furthermore, information available indicates that the measure for monitoring the flow of water in the river has already exceeded the maximum height by over one metre. A rapid assessment team comprising officers of NEMA and the stakeholders has left for Jebba and Kainji to inspect the situation."

The Cameroonian authorities issued several warning urging Nigerians to guard against possible environmental and human disaster that could occur with the release of water from Ladgo Dam and the possible implication of this, is that more floods are likely in the area currently inundated by water from the dam as its spillway would occasionally be opened to avoid collapse of the dam. Nigerians were advised to take necessary pre-emptive and precautionary measures so as to avert collateral damages that may ensue from the release of water.

The Director-General of NEMA, Alhaji Muhammed Sani-Sidi, estimated that, between Cameroun border and River Benue, 50 settlements, including Katsina-Ala, Kashimbilla, Waya, Manga, Gamovo, Andie, Terwegh, and over 15,000 hectares of land will be flooded and that over one million people and 20,000 heads of cattle and other livestock will be affected and could perish.

Despite these and other numerous warnings from NIMET, NEMA, Federal Ministry of Environment, and the States' Environmental and Emergency Management Agencies, no fewer than 20 states already hit by floods, had little or no resistance to offer.

The events of the recent years in certain parts of the country have however made the season less desirable than it should really be. This is because a combination of natural factors and human negligence as well as government's laxity have caused numerous flood disasters that bring sadness, tears and pain upon families, communities and the country as a whole.

Since climate change is a reality, and since we cannot avert it, then we have to take adequate majors in mitigation. As we are unfolding from the flood of 2012, we should implore some effective method that would work to avert such in the future.

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