Floods: Rehabilitating survivors, preventing recurrence


BUFFETED by widespread insecurity and economic woes, a natural disaster is the least desirable addition to the plight of Nigerians. But typical government indifference and ill-preparedness have facilitated deaths and destruction from long-predicted floods. At the last count, over 603 people had been killed in floods and millions displaced. At least 33 states of the federation are battling the deluge with thousands of houses, farmland, crops, and property washed away. Stories of starvation, neglect, and sickness abound at the internally displaced persons camps. Beyond rhetoric and buck-passing, the three tiers of government should take urgent measures to contain the floods and give succour to the victims.

This was a tragedy foretold. The Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, had in May indicated that flooding would hit 233 local government areas in 32 states and the Federal Capital Territory. The Director-General of the National Emergency Management Agency, Mustapha Ahmed, had also in August advised residents of riverine areas and floodplains to relocate. With these and other warnings unheeded, human bodies have been piling up in Kogi, Anambra, Kebbi, Bayelsa, Delta, Kwara, Bauchi, Yobe and Jigawa states.

The Minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Sadiya Farouq, said 82,053 houses had been destroyed, 2.5 million persons affected, and 332,327 hectares of land damaged. This is a national disaster! Adamawa, Gombe, Jigawa, Kaduna, Niger, Benue, and Nasarawa states have been badly hit. Governor Douye Diri lamented that Bayelsa had been severed from the rest of the country, and one million people displaced. Governor Chukwuma Soludo said one-third of Anambra State is submerged.

In truth, floods have in recent years become an unpalatable global phenomenon, afflicting rich and poor, advanced, and fragile economies alike. At least 40 countries had experienced devastating floods this year by the first week of October, according to multilateral agencies, and more since then. Every continent has been hit as compiled by FloodList; in Asia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, China and several others; in the Americas, the United States, Colombia, Venezuela, Mexico, Canada, Mexico and others; in Europe, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Greece, Russia, France and United Kingdom are among the afflicted; in Australasia, Australian and New Zealand territories have also witnessed floods and mudslides. In Africa and Middle-East, floods are wreaking havoc, with the World Food Programme and the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation describing the security and food supply situation in Nigeria, South Sudan, Ethiopia, and Yemen as “highly concerning.”

Climate change, storms, earthquakes, heavy rainfall, damaged dams, and poor environmental practices have been blamed. The World Bank says flooding can potentially, “reverse years of progress in poverty reduction and development,” while the WFP estimates 1.83 billion persons or 23 per cent of the global population to be at risk of flooding.

Experts insist that the impact of the current floods would have been much less severe in Nigeria if the federal, states and LGs had heeded long-sounded warnings of the impending inundation and taken appropriate proactive measures. Ten years ago, the country suffered a similar fate when about 30 states were overwhelmed; 363 lives lost and 2.1 million persons displaced. That flood was the worst in 40 years, with losses estimated at N2.6 trillion. Apparently, the various governments learnt nothing and made no serious preparatory efforts against a recurrence.

A report by the British Broadcasting Corporation blamed Nigeria’s floods on heavy rainfall, overflowing rivers, faulty and overburdened dams, poor town planning and inadequate urban drainage systems, and deforestation. The cost has been heavy.

In the first week of October, over $15 million worth of rice crops were washed away when 4,500 hectares of farmland in Nasarawa State were submerged. This wiped away about 25 per cent of the country’s rice needs. With roads and bridges cut off in the South-East, good-laden trucks are stranded. The Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas Company has declared a Force Majeure with the attendant shortage in gas supply and price hikes. The International Monetary Fund forecasts the flooding to worsen food insecurity and inflation already at over 20 per cent.

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The various governments are liable, having misappropriated the ecological and disaster management fund over the years. State governors and the LGs attach zero value to environmental issues. They expend such critical funds on luxuries or simply embezzle them. The reported opening of Cameroon’s Lagdo dam (though denied by NEMA) and trans-boundary waters through the River Niger and River Benue have also been blamed.

To mitigate the effects of warming, the World Meteorological Organisation suggests investment in integrated water resources management, a comprehensive framework for managing water resources and balancing social and economic needs, while protecting ecosystems, such as wetlands that mitigate flooding.

As experts have predicted no let-up in rainfall and bloated rivers and therefore more flooding to come, Nigeria’s leaders must take steps to reduce the impact, rehabilitate, and help the displaced to recover and return to their homes, while adopting long-term anti-flooding, and environment-friendly policies.

States should adopt modern town planning and urban development policies in line with global best practices. Building on floodplains, gorges, and wetlands, on drainage channels and setbacks should be stopped. There should be strict enforcement of planning and environmental laws and regulations. State governments must also halt the indiscriminate recovery of land from the coasts, swamps, and riverbanks. Professionals in the built industry should be recruited and encouraged. Corruption should be stamped out in the physical planning bureaucracy.

Perennial flooding challenges can be mitigated by timely maintenance, upgrading old, and building new dams. State governments should also build drainages and canals and maintain them regularly. LGs too should build earth dams, mobilise their staff and communities to clear drainages and assist displaced persons.

Coordinated efforts, including donations in cash and kind from corporate organisations, individuals, and NGOs, should be stepped up to provide for the displaced, rehabilitate damaged roads, bridges and farms and begin the arduous task of rebuilding.

Nigerian authorities should not be caught napping again.


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