Impending floods: Nigerians remember 2012, 2022 disasters, beg govts, stakeholders

 …We’ve not learnt any lessons, experts lament

As the rainy season intensifies, flooding is imminent in vulnerable areas and it comes with tales of horror. People that live in such volatile environments are already in fear; BENJAMIN SAMSON reports.

Flooding is a perennial chaotic occurrence in Nigeria. Every year it wrecks untold havoc on lives and property in diverse proportions, especially in areas that are prone to it.

Warning

The Minister of Water Resources and Sanitation, Prof. Joseph Utsev, recently cautioned that 148 local government areas across 31 states were among the highly probable flood risk areas for 2024.

Utsev issued the warning during the official unveiling of the 2024 Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) in Abuja.

The identified states are: Adamawa, Akwa-Ibom, Anambra, Bauchi, Bayelsa, Benue, Borno, Cross-River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Imo, Jigawa, Kaduna, Kano, Katsina, Kebbi and Kogi.

Others are: Kwara, Lagos, Nasarawa, Niger, Ogun, Ondo, Osun, Oyo, Plateau, Rivers, Sokoto, Taraba, and Yobe.

Utsev emphasised the importance of proactive measures to mitigate potential flood impacts in these areas.

He said there was the need for preparedness, early warning systems, and community engagement to minimise damage to lives and property.

The minister said that the high flood-risk areas spanned from April to November 2024, with potential impacts on population, agriculture, livelihoods, livestock, infrastructure, and the environment.

 Utsev said Nigeria the country faced recurrent and severe flood disasters over the years, with 2012 marked as one of the most devastating recorded events.

“The 2012 floods were particularly catastrophic, being termed the worst in the country’s history in terms of impact magnitude. The World Bank estimated the total economic damage from the 2012 floods, including damage to residential and nonresidential buildings, infrastructure, productive sectors, and farmlands, at approximately 6.68 billion dollars.

“In response to the on-going challenges posed by flooding, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu initiated the National Economic Council Ad-hoc Committee on Flood Mitigation, Adaptation, Preparedness, and Response,” he said.

The minister said the Committee’s mandate was to “proactively develop a comprehensive roadmap aimed at enhancing Nigeria’s flood mitigation, preparedness, adaptation, and communication infrastructure.”

Compliance

Speaking with this reporter, an environmental activist, and the convener of Friends of the Earth Initiative, Ebibie Okpoko, charged all stakeholders to take the warning seriously.

She said, “Just like it did last year and in the preceding years, the Nigeria Meteorological Service (NiMET) announced its findings after an in-depth study of global climatic patterns, based on satellite images taken over time.

“It thereafter predicted that this year, about 148 communities in 31 states of the federation would be affected by flooding in the course of the rainy season, which makes water levels rise in rivers and dams as well as cause ocean surge in coastal areas.

“In spite of the timely release of weather forecasts yearly, the flooding of large stretches of farmlands and displacement of residents of riverbanks continue to remain a recurring decimal in Nigeria, it simply suggests how such annual predictions by meteorological and hydrological agencies are never taken seriously by the relevant parties.

“It appears as though 12 long years after the colossal 2012 flooding across a large swathe of Nigeria, the country has learnt no lessons. This is how, year-in year-out, predictions come to pass with floods always happening as predicted. This is indisputably an indictment, both on residents of flood risk regions as well as relevant government authorities.

“While residents of floodplain areas have obstinately refused to relocate from the disaster risk zones, including watersides and drainage ways, it is inexcusable that the government has failed to compel them to leave such areas. More disturbing is the failure of the government to implement recommendations of reports submitted after every flood disaster. Instead of using funds meant for ecological projects designed to mitigate flood and the burdens of climate change on vulnerable communities, governors and federal agencies rather turned such funds into their ‘backup treasuries.’ For example, ecological funds were some time ago diverted to non-ecoschemes, including combating the Ebola outbreak.”

Continuing, she said, “Again, the refusal by government to construct buffer dams along River Benue as a long-term measure and deliberate attempt to control excess water discharged from Lagdo Dam in Cameroon, lends credence to public insinuations that government officials in environmental and disaster management agencies benefit from the disaster, which also explains their persistent application of ad hoc solutions to the problem. Indeed, they see these annual flood tragedies as avenues to pilfer public funds through the provision of relief materials, which sometimes do not get to those who really need them. This corrupt tendency possibly explains why, also, the issue of the dredging of River Niger, to reduce sand deposit in the watercourse has not been revisited.

“Nigerians should learn to comply with early warnings because their foolhardiness only worsens the devastation when the floods arrive. The government must ensure that residents of flood-prone areas are relocated to safer zones before the rains begin. The country has had enough ecological emergencies. It must not happen again. Flood predictions should matter to all Nigerians as well as the government; each fulfilling the commitment respectively required of them.”

Similarly,  a former director of enlightenment and mobilisation at the National Orientation Agency (NOA), Jimoh Yakubu, in a telephone interview, said , “As we are all aware, weather and climate have profound effects on aviation, agriculture, maritime, blue economy, water and natural resources, energy, disaster management, and infrastructure investments.

“NiMet has given a broad outline of the quantity of rain to expect across the country this year. States, therefore, have enough time to put adequate measures against the elements to avert another tragedy. The forecast projected that the rains may be delayed in some states, but the coastal areas would still experience flooding. Blocked drains, especially in areas where flood waters easily accumulate and generate a strong force, should be cleared, and subsequently kept free. These and other measures must be taken to minimise our individual and collective vulnerability.

“The annual seasonal climate prediction report provides critical information to help guide decision-making across all sectors of the economy. The NiMet document should be translated into pidgin, Hausa, Igbo, and Yoruba languages to promote wide uptake of information and increase access to critical climate information.”

Fears

However, palpable fear and anxiety have gripped residents of riverine communities in Kogi state over flooding anticipated to follow heavy rains.

The state remains one of the flood-prone states in the country as a result of the confluence of River Niger and River Benue in the state with communities and farm lands being submerged every year due to downpours and sometimes the release of excess water from dams.

As it stands, some residents said they are yet to see serious plans by the government to ensure the 2024 flooding does not make life unbearable for them and travellers.

A resilient of Lokoja, Faith Ikani, said, “After the 2022 flooding, the expectation is that the government will go the extra mile to ensure that residents of the state are not subjected to suffering like they experienced in 2022. But as it stands, it seems nothing has been learnt. The government is carrying on as if there is nothing to worry about. The people are also not helping the matters by not clearing the drainages. The monthly sanitation means nothing to the people. They sleep instead of cleaning the drainages. The truth is that we have not learnt any lesson from the 2022 floods.”

Likewise, Gabriel Saidu, a resident of Nataco Road, said it is sad that after the 2022 flooding experience; the government is yet to take the issue of flooding seriously.

“The people would not forget in a hurry what befell them in 2012, which recurred with devastating consequences in 2022.

“Last year, for instance, the rain took a heavy toll as houses, farmlands and produce were all washed away by continuous downpour. Many communities across nine local government areas of the state were affected,” he said.

 Also, Lami Ismaila, a resident of Gwagalada in the Federal Capital Territory, lamented that “we are definitely going to suffer it again since the government has not done much to control the flood around our area.”

Ismaila, who noted that the federal government had done drainage close to his area, observed that it was not able to control the flood when it came the last time.

He said: “The government needs to open more water channels and drainages because our area is totally a water-logged area and almost 30 per cent of the city’s population lives there. Any time the flood came, it destroyed a lot of houses, cars, farms, foodstuff, among others. It’s a big problem.

“The government must step up their efforts and provide more water channels so that the water can flow straight into the River to avoid this perennial flooding.”

Food security

Likewise, speaking with this reporter, the manager of Nagari farms in Nasarawa state, Alhaji Ali Maidoki, urged farmers and other stakeholders to take weather forecasting seriously in order to ensure food security.

He said, “Floods are among the most frequent and costly natural disasters in terms of human hardship and economic loss. They have caused untold damage in the last couple of years, especially with prolonged rainfall over several days. Therefore, we implore all the relevant authorities to prepare for the rains with great diligence. Individuals and groups living on flood plains should be evacuated or made to stay away from the potential dangers of their places of abode.

“As rainy season intensifies, farmers should not ignore weather predictions. The rainy season has begun in some parts of the country to mark the beginning of 2024 wet season crop production. The seasonal forecast provided by NiMet should be carefully considered by farmers.

“Although the projected weather event may not occur 100 percent as predicted owing to climate change, it will assist many farmers and other sector players in making informed decisions because predictions are based on scientific data rather than mere guesswork. The massive damage caused by the 2022 floods emphasises how important it is for farmers and other stakeholders to take weather forecasting seriously in order to ensure food security.”

He added that, “According to NiMet, there is a possibility of isolated flash floods in areas that are prone to flooding and drought in some northern states where the rainy season is expected to be short. Farmers will feel the brunt of devastating consequences of both, with impact on food security and the economy. Farmers are by the report urged to adopt moisture conservation techniques to mitigate crop losses during the wet season. In the coastal areas, we advise all stakeholders to take this alert seriously because farms, roads, bridges, and homes can be submerged by rainfalls that provide significant flooding. Another important takeaway in the report is the advisory on flash floods.

“It is one thing to have bumper harvest during the rainy season, but it is another thing to have the capacity to preserve the harvest for immediate gains of the farmers during the high demand for food in the dry season. Nigerians should therefore take seriously the metrological information from NiMet to avert recurring disasters.

 “The focus should be on prevention and pre-emptive intervention because little is gained when resources that should be put into developmental initiatives are wasted in dealing with avoidable emergencies and calamities.

“We must also come to terms that the perennial bloodshed between farmers and herdsmen is embedded in the struggle for pasture which is scarce during the dry season in northern parts of the country. It is this scarcity that informs the seasonal migration of herders for fodders and water for the survival of their livestock, a development that occasionally makes clashes with other land users inevitable.”