Flood disasters in Nigeria: Time to end the annual ritual
Flooding in Nigeria has transmuted from natural disaster to an annual ritual. Every year, for decades, the ritual is performed without let: All is quiet in the dry season; but as the rains set in, the ritual activities begin.
First to appear on the scene are the meteorological authorities. They predict the volume of rainfall with possible disastrous consequences for farmers, farm work, settlers in flood-prone states and communities. Relevant Federal and state government agencies take over with public awareness campaigns recommending necessary disaster preventive actions by potential victims. But the governments do virtually nothing more. Prospective victims - settlers and farmers in flood-prone areas - consider the awareness messages as 'noise' and, like the governments, they move on, doing nothing to help themselves.
Then the rainy season comes and the heavens open up. Farms and farmlands are flooded and washed way. Roads and buildings are submerged, resulting in losses of lives and property, sometimes on a massive scale. The victims are thrown into cries of anguish and mourning, haplessly approaching government with Save Our Souls (SOS) messages. Governments rush in with relief materials, usually too little and too late to make much difference to the victims. The ritual closes with weeping and gnashing of teeth just before the rains recede; the displaced return to base and life goes on till the next rainy season.
This cycle of flood disaster in Nigeria is repeated so often - annually, in fact - that it now feels and looks like normal. The only thing that changes from year to year is the extent of loses and the area of coverage.
The county's worst case of flooding occurred in 2012. The floods which bagan early July killed 363 people and displaced over 2.1 million as of early November when the water level receded. According to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), 30 of Nigeria's 36 states were affected by the floods, the worst two most affected areas being Kogi and Benue States. The floods were described as the worst in 40 years, and affected an estimated total of seven million people. The estimated damages and losses caused by the floods were put at N2.6 trillion.
The next worst case happened a decade later when more than 300 people were killed in 2022. The authorities said the situation was “beyond our control.” The floods in 27 of Nigeria’s 36 states and capital city affected half a million people, including 100,000 displaced and more than 500 injured, according to NEMA. It also destroyed thousands of hectares of farmland and disrupted food supply in Africa’s most populous country.
The primary cause of the floods is heavy rainfall during the country's annual rainy season. They are sometimes lethal, especially in the rural areas and overcrowded slums, where drainage is poor or does not exist at all. The volume of surface water in Nigeria's major rivers - Niger and Benue - during the rainy season is raised considerably when heavy rains in neighbouring Cameroon Republic force the authorities to release huge volumes of water from Lagdo Dam.
“Flooding has also been exacerbated in both frequency and magnitude due to climate change, other humanitarian crises, and, quite frankly, poor coordination of flood risk management cycle from a policy and operational point of view," a former minister of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development, Hajiya Sadiiya Umar Farouq, had said in 2022.
Earlier in 2020, then President Muhammadu Buhari had directed the Humanitarian Affairs minister to work with the Federal Ministry of Water Resources and other relevant MDAs as well as relevant stakeholders to fashion out a plan to find a lasting solution to the country's perenial flood-induced disasters. In compliance, the minister hosted an Inter-Ministerial Committee meeting with ministers and heads of agencies of over 17 ministries, departments, and agencies in September 2020. That meeting gave birth to an Inter-Ministerial Technical Working Group which drafted a National Multi-Sectoral Flood Emergency Preparedness and Response Plan.
In the twilight of his administration, former President Buhari constituted a Steering Committee to develop a comprehensive plan of action for the prevention of the recurrence of flood disasters in Nigeria, headed by the Minister of Water Resources.
All these boil down to the fact that the government already, or almost, has a masterplan for finding a permanent solution to Nigeria's flood disasters in the drawer. What remains is to pull it out, put it's implementation on top of its scale of priorities. Luckily, a new administration is just taking off in the country in the middle rainy season when predictions and fears of another round of flood disaster are rife and fresh. The new ministers in charge of Water Resources and Humanitarian Affairs must push for action, even if the predicted floodings or humanitarian disasters do not materialize or are of less magnitude this year. If action is not taken now, the new government will live to deal with, who knows, a bigger disaster in the coming years.
The new administration should resist the temptation to disband the ground work already done as it is a product of a collegiate of experts in this field. Government must provide the necessary resource back-up for it.
On their part, communities and individuals who fall victim of the flood disasters year-in year-out must help themselves by complying with expert advisories on settlement patterns and environmental habits.
Our country cannot afford to continue with this annual hollow ritual of paying lip service to a humanitarian challenge which available expertise and technology can tackle. Its continuance is all the more unacceptable considering the fact that the causes have been well diagnosed and possible remedies identified by experts.
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