This year, 2022, the floods seem to have united different parts of the globe. The World Bank report estimates that 1.18 billion people or 23% of the world population, face significant flood risks.
The floods have hit 27 of Nigeria’s 36 states and impacted around 1.4 million people, according to the Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Disaster Management. It has been reported that more than 500 people have been killed and 90,000 homes submerged, apart from supply chain disruptions.
In the North Central in particular, Koton-karfe , Kogi State and surrounding communities have been seriously impacted, while the Orashi area of Rivers State has not been spared. Apart from unusual rains, the recent release of water from the Lagdo Dam in neighbouring Cameroon has also been blamed for the devastating floods.
Beyond these statistics is the individual human tragedy of colossal proportions that beats the imagination. People have lost their livelihoods. The elderly and sick are displaced, food and necessities are scarce, and life has become drudgery and misery. All these are on top of the stifling economic crisis that every Nigerian contends with.
It is convenient for political leaders and those charged with the responsibility of planning and acting on our behalf to make excuses that flood and flooding are common global threats. It’s even easier to blame climate change. Climate change and its impacts are more of a worldwide conversation than a local one. And we hope the 27th UN Conference of Parties (COP 27) holding in Egypt this November will make a meaningful impact on the conversation, although tremendous pessimism exists, given the poor results of previous conferences.
The impact of the flooding in Nigeria is exacerbated by a lack of respect for science and leadership problems. Our lack of respect for science and preference for superstition is at the root of the flood disaster we have at hand. Since we do not respect science, therefore we seem not to have any place for strategic planning based on scientific evidence. The flooding problem is symbolic of a country whose leadership at all levels does not value planning, working with data and proactiveness.
All the agencies in the environment sector, both local and international, had predicted the current flood ravaging our country on the basis of scientific evidence, but nobody showed authentic leadership in providing solutions that
could forestall the disaster we have now harvested. Our leaders did not even seem to make any effort to benefit from past experiences and the availability of mitigation expertise. These floods did not start this year, and Nigeria had been affected in 2010 and 2012.
We have had enough time to learn lessons from years of recurring flood disasters, but it is evident that we learnt none from this most recent development. What lessons must we take from this presistent problem of flooding, and how can we prevent or mitigate the impact of flooding in Nigeria?
First, we must take the science of environment and climatic changes serious. It is noteworthy that in the recent instances of flooding disasters, it is not the lack of data and scientific knowledge that has been the problem, but the lack of effective and efficient use of data analysis to plan and put measures in place to either prevent flooding or reduce its impact. Our leaders act as if all environmental emergencies are Acts of God and, therefore, inevitable. This is baseless ignorance.
Too much rain alone or overflowing rivers do not create much havoc when structural and procedural anti-flooding arrangements are in place. In countries where they take scientific evidence relating to flooding seriously, there are early warning signs to evacuate people and valuables, and people activate measures to protect their homes and valuables. The government provides channels for the easy flow of water to designated areas and sets other scientific and environmental standards that reduce the impact of flooding.
There should be enlightenment campaigns for Nigerians and their leaders to counter superstitious beliefs and attitudes towards flooding and elevate the supremacy of scientific facts in this regard. This knowledge will help leaders plan better for and respond to flooding in more practical ways than the current blame-shifting or complete nonchalant attitude we see among them today.
Second, the first line of defence against flooding is in arming Nigerians living in flood-prone areas with adequate science-based information on the risks involved in their environments, how to mitigate these and when to seek safety elsewhere. The institutions saddled with this responsibility must be alive to it and be held accountable when they fail in utilising scientific data to inform the people about their risk levels and create robust early warning systems.
Yet, I must note that in the case of the Lokoja flooding, some institutions actually provided scientific information and early warning signals about the impending floods, but nothing much was done about this by the leadership or even those who ought to constitute the first line of defence against flood – the people themselves. Nigerians should demand a fit-for-purpose crisis management regime against natural disasters. The National Emergency Management Agency must be well funded and properly managed to react to disasters and work in synergy with local people to plan and manage crises such as flooding.
Third, being reactive to issues for which we have prior information is symptomatic of the lack of proactiveness and accountability. Worse still, the leadership needed to ameliorate the impact of flooding cuts across all strata of government. The Federal Government should protect the lives and property of people in affected areas by declaring a state of emergency and designating human and material resources to reduce the impacts of flooding.
The Federal Government can use its security apparatus to support and enforce evacuations, maintain dredging and waste management, and invest in flood mitigation efforts and infrastructure. In flood-prone areas, it should work on enhancing food resilience and security. In times of disaster, food and medicine are essential to limit the casualties of the disaster.
State governments must desist from allocating land for building in designated flood plains and flood-prone areas, thereby encouraging the construction of structures that block the routes of natural flowing water. Importantly, they need to engage in building sturdy drainage system to control flooding. States must develop physical flood prevention and mitigation infrastructure and work collaboratively with the Federal Government to manage critical water infrastructure such as dams, waterways, and water-based resources.
The national emergency response regime must be prioritised and adequately funded to help prevent disasters (particularly flooding) rather than being merely reactive to catastrophes. National and sub-national legislature need to create robust and adequate legal frameworks for dealing with flooding emergencies to ease the prevention and management of such natural or artificial disasters.
Fourth, the world is facing a climate change crisis. It is not time to question the science behind it, but time to embrace and champion it in Africa. Globally, engagement with climate change is a burning issue. Political leaders in both developed and developing countries are obsessing with the matter and adopting definite science-based measures to counter it. However, Nigerian political leaders don’t seem interested. Neither the Federal Government nor any of the 36 state governments seems to take definitive action to implement climate change policies and frameworks .The implication is that we are not placing ourselves in position to be part of all international efforts to understand and deal with climate change. Meanwhile, there is a clear opportunity for Nigerian leaders to lead the Global South in demanding accountability from the global community regarding their climate commitments, especially the Global North.
The proverbial saying must apply here, “the dog should not eat faeces and the goat’s teeth decay”. Climate change results from more activities in developed countries than in developing countries. China and USA have the highest carbon footprint in the world, representing the two biggest industrialised nations. China is the world’s largest emitter of carbon dioxide gas, with 10,668 million metric tons emitted in 2020, followed by the US, with 4,713 million metric tons of total carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. Nigeria’s contribution to carbon dioxide emission is literarily and comparatively insignificant. The biggest carbon emitters must compensate those affected in lands with less emission but face devastating climate change-induced natural disasters.
All these factors mentioned above will help improve situations of natural disasters such as flooding. However, effective and efficient leadership is at the core. Until our leaders eschew superstition, embrace scientific facts about natural disasters and strategically plan to prevent or reduce their impacts, we will remain at the mercy of natural elements.
Lokoja just showed us the tip of the iceberg on the possibilities and devastation of natural disasters. Predictably, this would not be the last of the flooding incidents. Now is the time to evolve or go extinct.