In early July 2012, some of the worst flooding in recent memory happened in Nigeria when 32 out of the 36 states were affected; 24 severely. More than 360 people were killed in that disastrous flood and almost two million people were displaced and rendered homeless. The National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), claimed that 30 of the 36 states were affected by the floods.
The floods were termed 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. Also, in early 2014, residents woke up in many parts of Nigeria’s economic nerve centre, Lagos, to find their streets and homes flooded and their properties submerged. Pictures and videos later posted online showed dramatic and even bizarre scenes of flooding in the city, including the capture of a crocodile in the flood water.
Also, Suleija, a town near the capital city, Abuja, suffered its own flooding challenge in July of that same year. Heavy rains washed houses away and caused others to collapse, trapping occupants. Thirteen people were reported to have died.
In all these incidents, the cause was attributed to a combination of two events: heavy rainfall and the release of excess water from the Lagdo Dam in nearby Cameroon. Although the degree and seriousness of flooding in Nigeria fluctuates, the phenomenon remains like a recurring decimal in most parts of the country.
But in our considered opinion, the first factor aggravating flooding is climate change which has been shown to contribute to more extreme storms and rainfall. Another factor is unbridled and rapid urban growth or even more of poor planning.
Urbanisation and industrialisation increase the number of roads and buildings. This in turn increases the proportion of surface area where water cannot be absorbed into the ground, leading to rapid runoff which then causes flooding during storms. And in cities that manage their infrastructure well, storm water drainage systems are built so that water can be directed to rivers efficiently and quickly.
However, the problem of flooding is not peculiar to Nigeria. In 2007, floods affected 1.5 million people across several countries in Africa, including Uganda, Sudan, Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia and Niger. Alluvial flooding is common for major rivers – such as Nile, Niger, Benue, Orange, Zambezi – in Africa. Major cities in Africa are also susceptible to fluvial flooding which occurs when excessive rainfall, over an extended period of time, causes rivers to overflow.
Rainfall patterns in Nigeria suggests that rainstorms are getting more intense. The data shows that there are fewer rainy days, yet the total yearly amounts of rainfall have not changed much from previous decades. This means that more rain is falling on the days that there is rain, which in turn means that rain storms in the city are getting more intense, increasing the threat of flooding.
In addition to more rain storms, the other possible cause of flooding in coastal regions is rising sea levels. Although up-to-date data on the rising sea levels in Nigeria are scarce, it’s believed that if nothing is done, this is likely to aggravate flooding in the future particularly in coastal cities.
Areas at risk include Lagos, which is on the coast, as well as the Niger Delta region which has many low-lying towns and villages. Being on the coast also makes these places more susceptible to storm surges. While these areas are no stranger to floods, evidence suggests that floods have become increasingly common and intense in recent times.
In the northern parts of the country, heavy rains are likely to cause rivers to overflow their banks and cause flooding in the adjoining states. The changes in rainfall patterns, particularly in frequency and intensity, have meant that these events have begun to happen more frequently. In Nigeria’s cities, the most common cause of flooding after excessive rains is poor drainage systems that can’t cope. This is called pluvial flooding. Lagos provides a good case study.
It’s clear, in our view, that the country needs to take measures to cope with flooding. This will require both local and international interventions, and could include early warning and rapid response systems, flood data gathering and modelling, proper urban and spatial planning, flood emergency preparedness and political will. The country can learn from others. For example, in Mumbai, India, various measures have been implemented to reduce the impact of flooding. Such measures include: emergency control centre, automated weather stations, removal of solid waste from storm water drains and the development of emergency response mechanisms. We urge the authorities concerned to invest in these flood prevention and control mechanisms and sustain them.
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