It is the floods, even next time

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By OWEI LAKEMFA
Lakemfa contributed this piece to the International Roundtable on Energy Emergency  and Energy Transition organised by the Cornell Global Labour Institute, Cornell University, and the Rosa Luxemberg Foundation, New York. October 10 – 12, 2012

AS we meet here in New York, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank are meeting in Japan at their annual meeting. The focus  of their meeting  this year, under the so called Sendai Dialogue,  is Discussion Forum On  Natural Disaster.

The  World Bank President, Jim Yong Kim said at the Dialogue that the economic losses caused by natural  causes have tripled over the last three decades annually to $3.5 trillion.

The proffered solution by the Bank is not  to  check  the root causes which includes   climate change, but  that business should   “mainstream disaster risk management  in all aspects of development”. In fact for  most of the private sector, the  sharply increased natural disasters open new business and profit prospects.

Floods: Climate change for some is a theoretical issue. In Nigeria, it is a nightmare we live. I come from a town called Patani in Southern Nigeria.

Two weeks ago, I got a message that the floods which had taken over many parts of the country had partially submerged my ancestral home. Then on Saturday October 6, 2011, I got another message; the people of Patani had woken up inside floods with fishes swimming past.

The roads had become rivers which required boats, not vehicles. In any case the cars in the town were under water. Part of the luck was that being a town on the banks of the Forcados River, the people were good swimmers, and so few casualties were recorded.

But many flooded communities in Nigeria were not so lucky; the floods swept some people away on their beds! In Adamawa State, a riverine community woke up to find twenty five corpses on their river bank; the victims were not even from the neighbouring villages. That means they had been swept over long distances, possibly from the neighbouring Republic of Cameroon.

Babies strapped on mothers’ backs

In some parts of the country, the floods swept on shore, babies still strapped on their mothers’ backs which might be an indication that the mothers were trying to flee with their babies before being swept away. In Jos, central Nigeria, a man lost his entire household including his wife; he probably survived because he was not at home when the floods came visiting.

The floods had in some areas including urban centres, swept crocodiles and reptiles like snakes into the streets. Without any preparation or training whatsoever, millions of people had suddenly become amphibious like the hippopotamus that reportedly strayed into some streets, obviously believing that it was in the deep river.

Apart from the serious health hazards the floods have caused, many buildings which have been submerged in flood waters for weeks, may have become unsafe for human habitation, and may actually collapse.

With farms under water or swept away, and so many farmers becoming internally displaced, there is no doubt that Nigeria is going to face severe food shortages and high food prices. Already, the cost of beans which is the main source of protein for most Nigerian families has risen by 300 per cent in the last three months. So cases of malnutrition are likely to rise.

The very bad case of soil erosion in Eastern Nigeria is bound to worsen with more families losing their homes, farms and means of livelihood to the floods.

Lagos the commercial capital has had very serious flood problems this year with people washed away as they slept in their homes especially around the Kuramo waters.  With the floods, some businesses are badly damaged and will close resulting in job losses. Thousands of persons have already lost their lives, and with the forecast of more rains and floods, it is likely that more lives will be lost.

Government relief agencies at state and federal levels are already overstretched and may have given up, as new flood victims like those in Patani I mentioned earlier, were completely left on their own with no relief forthcoming. Government spokespersons have also advised people in vulnerable areas to relocate; but this is like advising a hunchback to straighten up. With the advancing seas in the Niger Delta, the rising Atlantic Ocean and the rampaging floods, on the long run, some communities and towns may be wiped out.

Dying Lake Chad and the advancing Sahara Desert: Lake Chad, the sixth largest lake in the world provided water and sustenance to 30 million Nigerians, Cameroonians, Nigerien and Chadians. In fact, the Republic of Chad is reported to have got its name from the lake. But with climate change and other human factors, it appears the days of the lake are numbered; within the last four decades, it has shrunk by over 90 per cent!

Flooding of wetlands

The Wikipedia search website reports that the size of the lake greatly varies seasonally with the flooding of the wetlands, and that in 1983, Lake Chad covered 10,000 to 25,000Km2, but that by 2000, its extent had fallen to less than 1,500 Km2.

Quoting the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the Lake Chad Commission, Wikipedia reported that  at least half of the lake’s decrease is due to shifting climatic patterns while other causes are entirely man-made.

In contrast, the Sahara Desert, the world’s largest desert, has according to research by the Nigeria-based international NGO, Fight Against Desert Encroachment (FADE) been advancing southwards at the rate of about five square kilometres per annum “resulting in the submergence of vegetative lands by sand dune.”

It added that with this, drought will set in and the desert will grow further. Forty per cent of African countries, FADE reports, are under the threat of desertification and drought.

Already in Nigeria, the advancing desert and its resultant drought have changed, for the worse, the lives of millions of people especially in the North East and North West.

The irony of empty fuel (gas) stations in an oil rich country: Oil was discovered in commercial quantities in Oloibiri, Nigeria in 1956. Today, despite growing oil wealth, Oloibiri is completely abandoned; like an orange, sucked and thrown away.

But it is not Olibiri alone that is abandoned, the Nigerian people are also largely abandoned, with mass unemployment and absence of unemployment benefits, lack of basic needs and  no right to education, healthcare, shelter or food.

The so called subsidy on diesel (AGO) has been removed and the product, used to run factories was put in the hands of a few marketers who have no known fixed price for it.

Most of the poor, especially in the urban areas, use kerosene for cooking, with the commodity disappearing from the filing stations and the price skyrocketing, many Nigerians who live below the poverty line have resorted to the use of firewood thereby further depleting the fast disappearing forest.

On January 1, 2012, the government decided to increase the cost of a litre of petrol (PMS) by over 200 per cent; a General Strike, mass rallies and street protests organised by labour unions and civil society organizations and led by the Nigeria Labour Congress forced a price reduction to a third of the original increase. Today, petrol stations in a number of urban centres have no fuel or are witnessing long queues.

The basic problems are the massive fraud in the sector and the failure or rather refusal of the government to make the four refineries in the country functional.

So Nigeria is a large oil producing nation which exports its products in crude form and imports finished petroleum products at high prices which are imposed on the citizenry.

To be concluded

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