Wednesday, 21 July 2021 05:45

What’s the worth of flood alerts? - Kayode Komolafe

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Kayode Komolafe Kayode Komolafe

From Lagos to Jalingo, flood news has been reported in parts of Nigeria in the last few days. Streets and neighbourhoods have been submerged after intense rainfalls. Homes have been destroyed with farmlands devasted in rural areas. The socio-economic cost of the destruction is huge. The implications for health, welfare and food security are immense.

In Taraba State, at least 4,000 persons have been reportedly displaced in the last two days. About 300 houses have been damaged with some of them now under water in some places in Jalingo, the state capital. Taraba’s northern neighbour, Adamawa, is not spared by the floods. The state government has warned residents to move to safer areas. In Cross River state a N3 billion World Bank erosion control project in Nkebre community in the state is threatened by the prevailing environmental disorder. According to members of the community a combination of lack of drainages and bad roads may cause the failure of the project. The matter is made worse by the heavy rainfalls recorded already this year in the state. Floods have caused enormous material damage in Ado-Ekiti in Ekiti state and Ijebu-Ode in Ogun State. In Kaduna state, about 305 relocation notices have been issued by the state environmental protection agency to those living in risky areas. Residents were advised to stop dumping refuse on waterways and drainages. There are fears that endemic erosion problems in some states such as Anambra, Akwa Ibom and Imo states could compound flooding with the predicted heavy rains.

To be sure, the sad experience has been a global one. Cities in the United States have experienced flooding just as activities have been disrupted in China by floods. Flood news comes from countries as diverse as India, Turkey, Oman, Iran, Uganda, New Zealand, Japan and Colombia. The death toll in Europe is put at no fewer than 200; most of the deaths have been recorded in Germany. There is mourning in some parts of the world caused by what on the surface looks like the fury of nature.

Is mankind completely helpless in the face of floods?

Not exactly so.

For instance, two months ago in Nigeria the Minister of Water Resources , Engineer Suleiman Adamu, warned the nation about this year’s floods. The minister spoke at the presentation of the Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) prepared by the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency’s (NIHSA). In the sober report, 121 Local Government areas (LGAs) in 27 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) were listed as “probable flood risk” places. The states are Abia, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Cross-River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Gombe, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Kebbi, Kogi, Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Oyo, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba and Zamfara.

Parts of Lagos state in particular were ravaged by floods after heavy rainfalls last week. Elite areas and slums were equally troubled by floods.

In April, the state commissioner for environment, Mr. Tunji Bello, issued some flood alerts and, in fact , advised those living in coastal and low-land areas to move upland so avoid loss of lives and damage to properties.

According to Bello, the flood forecast for this year “is based on the informed global consensus that el-Nino Southern Oscillation, ENSO, is at the cool phase, which will continue till around June and likely give to a dominant el-Nino phase till the end of 2021…

“The connotation is that Lagos State shall experience a rainy season of 238-261 days, while the maximum annual rainfall amount is predicted to be 1,747mm.”

Meanwhile the director-general of NIHSA, Engineer Clement Nze, has also warned that there could be worse flooding in Lagos state. Nze reportedly said that the rainfall that disrupted things in Lagos last Friday might not be as much as what may happen in September. Nze dismissed the stories of opening of dams by a neighbouring country. He advised the public to focus on internal steps to take in responding to flood disasters.

So it was predictable that heavy rainfalls could trigger flooding in the second part of the year. The extremity of the weather was, therefore, expected by the experts.

The Lagos state government environment ministry has not only predicted heavy rains and floods for about 261 days, it has also announced plans to mitigate the disaster that floods might cause when they happen. It is only commonsensical to be prepared for flooding once experts have made the forecasts. Drainages and canals are being cleared for water to disappear into the canals few hours after heavy rainfalls like the ones witnessed last week. For example, residents in one area in the mainland part of the state said on television last Friday that their experience this year was relatively better than that of last year because the drainage in the area was cleared in earnest.

There should more of such stories of taking the right steps from the states.

In fact, while speaking on the flood outlook for the year, the water resources minister reminded other tiers of government to get prepared for the looming floods by clearing waterways and flood paths.

The alert given by the hydrological services agency should be a telling reminder about the necessary synchronisation of policy steps among the three tiers of government in order to mitigate the effects of flood disaster.

Environmental disasters do respect federalist boundaries and principles. After all, while the federal hydrological agency could give a panoramic view of things, the real work of policy execution is to be done by states and local governments.

The flood news has, of course, been largely a bad one. But the good news is that a lot of work could still be done in the next few weeks to change the tide of things in the identified 121 local government areas.

It’s certainly worth the while to take steps to remove impediments to waterflow in the various risk zones. State and local governments should, therefore, take the flood alerts issued by the national hydrological agency more seriously to minimise flood risks. Last year, about 70 persons died in flood disasters in the country. Thousands were displaced from their villages. Kogi and Kwara states were particularly hit. The disasters should not be repeated this year.

The point at issue is that human factors in the problem of flooding should be isolated from the larger natural issues. It is within the precinct of policy conception and execution to deal with the human factors. This aspect of the problem has been repeatedly explored on this page. For instance about a year ago, this reporter observed as follows:

“Yes, flood is a natural disaster. But the failure of environment policy is a human error. That’s not natural.

“Lack of preparedness is a man-made disaster.

“Flood disasters can be scientifically explained. Researches are being conducted on the problem in Nigerian institutions despite the limited facilities. .

“If an area is defined as “flood prone,” it’s simply irrational (if not criminal) to ignore the warnings until disasters happen. . “Governments must take drastic and responsible steps to avoid disasters. The people should also be reasonable enough to respond to official warnings. If the hurricane-prone communities in other parts of the world are careless about the natural disaster as things are done in Nigeria, some coastal communities could have been long wiped out of the face of the earth.”

For policies to be executed in other departments of national life, the environment must first be preserved. Here we are talking of the primacy of the habitat. Just imagine the damage being done to infrastructure by flooding.

It is time Nigeria paid a greater attention to the larger issues of climate change as many countries are doing at present. The consequences of climate are manifest. Climate change has been categorised by some experts as an “existential risk.” And this is far from being alarmist as some climate change deniers are wont to suggest in some places. As Oxford philosopher, Toby Ord, points out in his new book, The Precipice: Existential Risk and the Future of Humanity, climate change is as much a risk to mankind as nuclear weapons or pandemics. The havoc of flooding seems to belie the argument that talking about climate change is a luxury that only industrialised countries can afford.

The science and the geo-politics of the problems should be separated for a nation to find solutions at its own corner of the globe. It is scientifically interesting that the same climate that is blamed for flooding is also believed to be responsible for droughts in some places. According to experts, human activities are responsible for the change. With the warming of the earth by about one degree Celsius, the sea level has risen by about 2.3 centimetres.

The country is already confronting insecurity and tackling a pandemic. Mass poverty is a scourge plaguing the land. Flood disasters in most of the states should not be added to the catalogue of woes. Environmental damage could compound the other existing problems.

The warnings given by experts about the risk of floods should be taken as a wake-up call in the context of Nigeria in which issues of the environment are not yet a national priority.

All told, the funding of projects to mitigate the risk of flooding should be treated as a central budgetary item by the federal and state governments. The ecological fund should be judiciously used to partly tackle the problem.

 

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