Another rainy season is here with its attendant hopes, trepidation and anxiety. While most people welcome the rains for bringing coolness and freshness to the hitherto dry, dusty and hot weather of the harmattan, others, especially farmers, see it as the arrival of another planting season characterised by hard work, at the end of which is expected a bountiful harvest.
But lurking behind all this excitement of the new rains is fear: the fear of flooding and of the loss of life and property. With climate change, Nigeria and other parts of the world have begun to experience higher water levels which cause flooding even in places not prone to flooding.
In 2018, no fewer than a quarter of a million households in Nigeria were at risk after heavy rains caused flooding that inundated 80 per cent of the country. The rainfall, which began in July and continued till September, caused Nigeria’s two main rivers – the Niger and the Benue – to burst their banks. The resulting disaster affected 34 of the country’s 36 states with Kogi, Niger, Anambra and Delta the worst hit. The flooding also caused no fewer than 240 deaths and 265 injuries. The federal government declared a state of emergency in the four worst affected states.
For these sad occurrences and disasters not to happen again, the time to act is now. We implore state and local governments to, as a matter of urgency, engage residents in cities and towns, and enlighten them on the dangers of dumping refuse on waterways and other measures that would help their communities avoid such disaster.
At the same time, it is apt for state and local governments to dredge and clear canals, drainages and other waterways to ensure free flow of water in cosmopolitan areas.
While we recognise the need for shelter, builders and would-be owners should be made to obey the existing laws on building construction, Disobeying such laws could bring dire consequences, like loss of life and property to flooding.
While other climes have tried to adapt to the peculiarities of their topography, a lot of Nigerians find it more convenient to blast hilly and mountainous areas for the sake of construction. Enabling laws prohibiting this practice should be promulgated and enforced while defaulters should be brought to book. It is also important to learn lessons from countries like The Netherlands and South Africa where otherwise difficult and disadvantaged locations and landscapes have been turned round to places to cherish.
Another act to be discouraged is scavenging for sand. Although many Nigerians derive their livelihood from this, operators in the industry should be made to operate within the ambit of existing laws and where these are absent, new environmental-friendly ones should be enacted.
It is also pertinent to relocate occupants of flood-prone areas prior to the advent of disasters. The typical fire-brigade- approach after the disaster has happened should be jettisoned for a more proactive one whereby the people would be relocated to safer areas before the coming of the heavy rains.
We hereby call on agencies like the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA), Nigerian Metrological Agency (NiMet), National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and its sisters at the state level to shoulder their responsibilities and confront, both boldly and frontally, the perennial issues associated with the coming of the rains.
For instance, NiMet has been mandated by law to provide weather and climate-related information, advisories and services to all its stakeholders. This is to enable stakeholders in these sectors such as agriculture, transportation, tourism, water resources management, health, environment and communication to plan ahead. With the agency being alive to its duties, a lot of the problems would be brought under control, if not eradicated.
For these agencies, a big obstacle to the diligent discharge of their duties is the lack of modern and state of the art equipment. Some of these agencies are known to have relied on expatriate construction companies to do their work. The government should deploy more funds to weather forecast, emergency management and the agencies in charge in the Appropriation Bill currently at the National Assembly.
To avoid the huge but preventable losses due to flooding and other related challenges that come with the rainy season in 2019, all hands must be on deck. And the time to act is now.