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MATTERS ARISING: 28 states at risk of flooding — how prepared is Nigeria?

MATTERS ARISING: 28 states at risk of flooding — how prepared is Nigeria?
May 20
08:27 2021

Uche Igwe will not forget August 26, 2020 in a hurry. It had rained heavily that day in the capital city, Abuja. Trademore Estate in Lugbe, where Igwe runs a cybercafe business, was overrun by rainwater. The force of the flood pulled down the fence of Igwe’s office complex and destroyed a part of the building. In no time, the property was floating on water.

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Igwe’s business was greatly affected as he lost machines and computers. It took his entire savings and the support of friends and family for him to be able to recover from the event of that day, he tells TheCable.

“I lost over two million naira worth of [electronics], my machines were all gone, my computers, everything. We didn’t expect such here,” he says.

Like Igwe, Victor Essang, a resident of Calabar, Cross River state capital, has also recorded losses to flooding.

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First, his family lost a block of flats inherited from their grandparents, and later, his poultry business took a hit in 2016.

Igwe and Essang are just two of the many Nigerians who suffer the consequences of flooding that occurs yearly in different parts of the country during the rainy season. 

Essang's family apartment destroyed by flooding; Nelson Mandela street, Calabar

Essang’s family apartment destroyed by flooding; Nelson Mandela street, Calabar.

SEVERE FLOOD PREDICTIONS

During the 2021 flood outlook presentation, the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) announced that 28 states, including the FCT, will most likely experience flooding this year.

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Similarly, the Nigeria Meteorological Agency, in its 2021 seasonal climate forecast, said the signals monitored by the agency in the last seven years show that things are changing on the climate front and that this year, Nigeria is expected to experience unprecedented heavy downpours. 

The information is intended to alert Nigerians, government, relevant agencies and stakeholders of what is to come in order for them to prepare — prevent, mitigate and respond — for severe flooding. 

Igwe's office complex overrun by flooding on August 26, 2020

Igwe’s office complex overrun by flooding on August 26, 2020

Going by the alert, Igwe says he intends to raise his compound level to prevent rainwater from entering in the event of a flood.

On his part, Essang says he was already apprehensive about the severity of this year’s rainfall, even before the alert. He tells TheCable that he has relocated his belongings to a safer place.

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“I have packed out my things to a safe place, I will bring them back when the rain stops. My only prayer is God will not let it bring our house down,” he says.

CLIMATE CHANGE A DRIVING FACTOR IN FLOODING

A drainage system at Trademore Lugbe clogged with waste.

A report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) states that extreme weather patterns caused by long-term global climate change increase the likelihood of floods.

Chukwudi Njoku, a doctoral researcher on climate change at the University of Calabar, says flooding in Nigeria can be linked to both natural and human activities that influence changes in the climate.

“When there is high temperature, then there is increased possibility for evaporation – the process where water vapour is taken from the earth surface into the atmosphere — which can trigger much more rainfall,” he tells TheCable.

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“The rising temperature here is a climate change feedback and when evaporation is increased, there is the possibility of more rainfall and when rainfall increases, simultaneously it could trigger flooding.”

Research by MOJ Ecology & Environmental Sciences (MOJES) has shown that human activities such as urbanisation, felling of forest trees and burning of fossil fuels, among others, lead to the emission of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases.

According to the study, these activities distort the carbon cycle – the process in which carbon atoms move from the atmosphere to the earth and then back into the atmosphere. The activities also initiate climate change processes which involve a variety of changes including higher surface temperatures and changes to the hydrological cycle – the process in which water moves from the land and ocean surface to the atmosphere and then back in form of rain.

A drainage system not properly terminated, Trademore estate Lugbe

Njoku believes that these human activities are what increases and make worse the impacts of climate change on humans and their environment. 

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“Such activities like urbanisation which is not properly done in a sustainable manner, for example, people building in floodplains and swampy areas which are supposed to serve as banks for water, thus reducing the ability of the environment to collect and keep excess water,” the researcher explains.

“Also, the clearing of forest areas for agriculture increases the extent of bare surfaces that would have hitherto collected runoff water and reduced the flow of water.

“These human activities are not sustainable and where they are not checked, they only go to increase the susceptibility of the people to flooding which appears to be inevitable at this time considering the increasing temperature and rainfall events.”

He advises that people living in flood-prone areas should be relocated and government should put laws in place to deter chaotic urbanisation, create more awareness about the potential increase in flooding events and their dangers, and also ensure that roads and drainages are constructed to accommodate the volume of water from the rain.

HOW IS GOVERNMENT PREPARING?

A signpost warning people not to dump waste into the drainage system or risk arrest

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), whose responsibility is to manage disasters, tells TheCable that the agency had information about imminent flooding since February through the seasonal climate predictions document made available by NIMET.

“Before that presentation by NIHSA, NEMA already had some information about the outlook of the rains and the consequences of the flood. So having the information, the agency had called together experts to analyse the predictions of NIMET and come out with a disaster risk management of the prediction,” says Manzo Ezekiel, public relations officer of NEMA.

“The secretary will soon convene a meeting of all the state emergency management agencies and relevant organisations that their activities or mandate have something to do with the management of floods.

“During that meeting, NEMA is going to communicate to them that this is the information we have and this information is going to cover your area of operation, what and what can you do about it. That is the next line of action that we have. That meeting will take hold very soon.”

The PRO said the zonal offices of the agency “are already on standby to take the information down to the specific communities that are at risk of flooding”.

He said the agency will ensure continuous engagement with Nigerians and create awareness at the federal, state, and local government levels to ensure that flooding does not take Nigerians by surprise.

“We are going to tell them that, this year there is a forecast of increased rainfall and this will likely interrupt your stay here,” he says.

SPEEDY MITIGATION EFFORTS NEEDED

A street with a one-sided drainage system.

While government agencies are still at the preparation stage, Igwe wishes they can speed up the process since the country is already in the rainy season.

He believes the annual flood events in his locality is a result of the lack of an adequate drainage system which the government had earlier promised to expand. 

“I think the major cause is the drainage system. I wish the government could even rush down and do it for us today today today,” he says.

Igwe desires the speedy process because, according to him, the relief materials government agencies offer in the aftermath of flooding do not equate to the losses. 

“When they were sharing their palliatives, I just refused; how can somebody lose about two point something million and you are giving him a pack of Indomie and small 5kg camping gas cylinder?” Igwe adds.

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