Can you give an insight into climate change and the implications it has on people’s lives and properties?
The climate impacts vary. Some regions of the world are experiencing above normal heat while others are experiencing cold. The floods in India and Bangladesh this year have displaced over 9 million people. In US it is heat and fires engulfing thousands of hectares of land. Ironically Africa contributes the least to the climate crisis but seems to be carrying some of the biggest burdens as coastal erosion, desertification and deforestation hammers the continent. As these things occur, people are displaced and there are conflicts in regions that they migrate to that are habitable. There are stresses on available land and water so food crisis and water shortages may spur the next generation of war except something drastic happens.
The 2022 rains have been overwhelming leaving many places flooded and submerged, why is this so?
The Nigeria Meteorological Agency (NIMET) and its sister organisation – the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) had warned earlier in the year that there would be heavy rains and flooding so, what is happening had been foretold. Federal and state level response is the real problem because enough awareness on what is happening was not created. Many communities now under water were not forewarned at state level or preparations made for them to move to shelters on high ground. The flooding that has engulfed Kogi and surrounding states has to do with the unusually heavy rains that have been experienced in the north and Cameroon and the release of water from the Lagdo Dam and other dams on the Nigerian side. If the waters are not released, the dams may break apart and then the flooding will be even more catastrophic. The unfortunate thing is that the Nigerian government has not learnt its lessons from previous floods starting with the 2012 incident which caused loss of lives, livelihoods and about 400 deaths.
Will it reduce and when perhaps?
No one can answer this question precisely. As we know, climate change is about crazy weather patterns. So, it might worsen or bring something entirely different. We associated the northern part of the country only with drought, but we can see that the north is now witnessing more floods and displacements than the south. The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for 2022 warns that more catastrophic events are even ahead.
Are there habits Nigerians engage in that may contribute to flooding? If yes, how do we check them?
I will lay the blame solely on government. It is the responsibility of government to put in place policies to safeguard the environment and sanction those who violate it. If that is not happening, then something is wrong somewhere. The practices that exacerbate the flooding include poor urban planning, building on flood plains, blocked drains and indiscriminate dumping of wastes, especially plastic waste. In Lagos for instance, the drains are usually blocked, and the government seems to be applying knee jerk approach instead of being proactive. In the north it is a different scenario as the waters do not penetrate the soil. Government must do more in educating people about these issues and sanction those who flout environmental laws.
How prepared do you think the Nigerian government including states are to address climate change?
The reality before our faces is that government at all levels are not prepared or they have chosen to abdicate responsibility. In fact, the first thing we hear from the states whenever the floods occur is the demand for Ecological Funds. There are simple things that states can do like building shelters, mass awareness programmes on floods and ensuring flood plains remain free. In virtually all the flooding situations these things are missing. They will rather blame climate change or ask for Ecological Funds.
How can communities and governments avoid flooding in the future?
It must be collaborative. Government must do its bit along the lines of the things I mentioned before, and the citizenry must cooperate with government to ensure all of us are safe. For the low lying communities around the Benue and Niger Rivers that receive flood waters from the Lagdo Dam in Cameroon, buffer dams should be built as was recommended around 1981 when the Lagdo Dam was built. Nigeria failed to do this and the price is what we are facing today. The early warning systems are effective but the precise follow-up at state level must be activated. The traditional institution must also be involved. The National Orientation Agency (NOA) must be put to work because they have offices in all the states of the federation. They can use local languages and other means of communicating the message.