Averting flood disaster through early warning signs

Vehicles and houses submerged by flood recently in Ogun State

Flle: Kogi flood

By Kayode Adebiyi, News Agency of Nigeria (NAN)

Over the last two decades, advancement in science and technology has made meteorological forecast increasingly accurate.

All over the world, policy makers utilise the vast meteorological knowledge, as well as precise and other dependable weather tools, to warn about impending adverse weather days, weeks and months ahead.

Whether it is a heat wave, hurricane or flood, authorities avert the most catastrophic fallouts of natural and emergency disasters by promptly responding to early warning signs.

However, in Nigeria, such early warnings are sometimes ignored leading to unprecedented human and material costs.

A case in point is the recent flood disasters in several states, especially Anambra, Kogi, Cross Rivers, Rivers, Delta, Benue and Bayelsa.

So far, media reports indicate that the disaster has killed over 603 persons, displaced 1,302,589 and partially destroyed over 108,393 hectares of farmlands in the affected areas.

The disaster has also injured 2,407 persons, partially damaged 121,318 houses, totally damaged 82,053 houses and totally damaged 332,327 hectares of farmlands.

Unfortunately, this is a disaster that could have recorded less tragedy only if national and state governments yielded to early warning signs.

The present disaster was foretold by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NiMet) as far back as February, when it issued a warning and followed it up with monthly updates.

Early in September, NiMet also warned against a high amount of rainfall which might trigger flooding in some states, based on the rainfall distribution recorded in the country in July and Aug. 2022.

“The saturated state of the soil moisture across the country in July and heavy rainfall recorded in August may make most places experience varying degrees of flooding in September.

“Places with major river channels may experience probable high risk of flood events due to accumulation of water already on the river channels which may not be able to contain any additional water,” NiMet warned.

The agency also advised emergency management agencies to intensify `adaptative, mitigative and response` mechanisms.

After what already seemed like a final apocalypse, NiMet continued to warn that the worst was not over.

The agency had expressed the likelihood of more states experiencing floods, especially in the North Central, South East and South Western states.

“In terms of the rainfall induced floods, we’ve seen the peak but remember we told you that this rainwater gets collected into the reservoirs and dams, and whenever they are filled, it gets spilled.

“On the 13th of September, the Lagbo Dam was released. And also, Kainji and Shiroro dams were released. What we’re witnessing now is riverine flooding,” NiMet explained.

Experts wonder why, rather than respond robustly and decisively to NiMet warnings, government at federal and state levels resorted to buck passing.

The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) claimed that it wrote to the 36 states of the federation, alerting them about the impending danger and advising on appropriate action.

On his part, Senior Special Assistant, Media and Publicity to the President, Malam Garba Shehu, implied that recent flood disasters had not reached national emergency threat levels.

He also said that each tier of government – local, state and federal – has “a sizable budget allocated monthly it monthly to deal with state-level national emergencies”.

Apparently, the presidential spokesperson was referring to the Ecological Fund, a 2.32 per cent of the derivation fund dedicated to ecology and disaster management.

Of the said amount, the Federal Government, through NEMA, accesses 20 per cent; the North East Development Commission and the National Agricultural Land Development Authority each gets 10 per cent.

The National Agency for the Great Green Wall accesses 0.5 per cent of the Ecological Fund, while the federal government also reserves another 0.55 per cent for ecological protection and disaster management.

The 36 states of the federation and the Federal Capital Territory access 0.72 per cent, and the 774 local government areas collect 0.6 per cent.

Again, a balance of another 1 per cent is reserved for the federal government.

While reacting to the disaster, Gov. Charles Soludo of Anambra said the share states get from the Ecological Fund is grossly inadequate to tackle disasters of the current magnitude.

“How will this allocation deal with this kind of ravaging situation where flood sacks almost eight local government areas at once and hundreds of billions worth of assets and sources of livelihood destroyed?

“If you spend 50 per cent of the entire ecological fund in Anambra State in one year, it will be significant but will touch only 20 per cent of the problem.

“Anambra is a national emergency by itself. Ecological challenge requires special funding and attention because one-third of the land of Anambra is under threat,” he said.

For a country which has experienced over 100 flood-related disasters between 2011 and 2022, experts believe that governments should be should be more pragmatic in finding a solution to the problem that trading blames.

They warn that the impact of incessant flood disasters goes beyond washed away farmlands, submerged houses and flooded roads.

In a report by the NexTier SPD, co-authored by Dr Chukwuma Okoli and Dr Ndu Nwokolo, impending food scarcity, outbreak of diseases and environmental crisis are potential collateral risks of flooding.

“The agricultural losses recorded from recent flooding incidents will further worsen food scarcity.

“For instance, Olam Farm, one of Nigeria’s largest contributors to the rice value chain, had its farmland of around 4,400 hectares in Nasarawa State completely submerged by excess water from the River Benue.

“This is a red flag for food scarcity. The release of excess water from the Lagdo dam in the neighbouring Republic of Cameroon contributed significantly to the current flooding across Nigeria.

“There is also a governance failure on the part of Nigeria for failing to complete the building of the Dasin Hausa Dam in Adamawa state as agreed by the two countries years back”, it said.

It said Nigeria’s dam is supposed to act as a buffer for excess water from the Lagdo dam.

The dam in mention, twice the size of Lagdo, was commissioned for construction in 1982 to absorb the overflow from Cameroon.

It was also expected to generate 300 megawatts of electricity and irrigate thousands of hectares of land. Curiously, the project has not seen the light of day.

Indeed, climate change has made environmental disasters more frequent, and severe. Therefore, along with other proactive measures, government and citizens alike have to take early warning signs more seriously. (NANFeatures)