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TROUBLING FORECAST: Huge floods from nine countries coming, Nze, NHSA boss, warns

…Speaks of red alert in Kebbi, Niger
…‘How Lagos, Delta, other prone states stand’

By Levinus Nwabughiogu

Clement Onyeaso Nze, the Director-General of the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency, NHSA, in this interview, says Nigeria is awaiting river flooding from Niger Basin.

Clement Onyeaso Nze, Flood

Precisely on August 7, 2019, you painted a gloomy picture when you released the Annual Flood Outlook. What should we really expect this year? How high can the water level rise to disrupt social activities compared to past years?
Actually, what we did then wasn’t a release of Annual Flood Outlook. The Annual Flood Outlook was released on April 30, 2019, by the Honourable Minister of Water Resources, Engineer Suleiman Adamu. What we did on August 7, 2019, was to update the nation as to what we were seeing because, after public presentation, we usually follow up with sensitization programmes in various zones in the country, depending on what the presentation has said. So, on August 7, 2019, we updated the nation on what we were seeing. As of that time, 15 states and the FCT had experienced one form of flooding or the other and so many deaths.

There were more than 100 deaths or so. It was kind of progressive and we know, going by the past records, that time was, so to say, the beginning of the peak of flooding if you take the statistics of the previous years as of 2012, 2018 and so on. So, the level of water kept rising and, then, what was happening in Nigeria was what we call urban flooding, flooding generated by internal rainfall caused by blockage of drainages, poor urban planning, building in-between the flood plain, non-existence of drainages in several places. That was what actually caused urban flooding or flash flood. Some may last about one hour, some two hours or more. But we were still expecting the one we call river flooding, that is when the flood coming from the upper catchment or what we called Niger Basin will be arriving Nigeria. In that basin, we have about nine countries. On the River Niger side, we have six of them: Guinea, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire and the Benin Republic.

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On River Benue side, we have Cameroon and Chad. All the water will be coming. Nigeria is at the bottom of the Niger basin. So, we are expecting the flood that will be coming later during the flooding season. That is what prompted that alert of August 7, 2019, that we are really experiencing this much within Nigeria due to rainfall and so many deaths and destructions have taken place. We predicted that about 30 states and not less than 74 local government areas will be affected. So that was our prediction at the beginning of the year. What was happening then was a bit uncomfortable for us. That is why we warned that by September or towards the end of August, a flood from the nine countries I have mentioned will be arriving in Nigeria. As of September 6, not less than 80 local government areas and 34 states have been affected. Our prediction has been more than 30 states from the beginning of the year when there was no rain flooding yet in April; then as of August, there were 15 of them including the FCT. So, as of September 6, we have a record of over 30 states already affected by flood with several levels of losses in those states.

Let’s get to know the worst-hit states You can’t really say exactly these are the states, eventually all the states lost human beings. Many people died in most of the states. We are aware of what happened in Bauchi, Adamawa, Anambra and several other states, even FCT where a number of people died including a Director of Finance in the FCT High Court. More than six reportedly died in Bauchi and, in Adamawa, more than 11 died.

Does that mean some states are on high plain while others on the low are prone to be flooded?

Many of the states that were affected were because of poor urban planning and not necessarily because of the location. Like Lagos and Rivers states, if the drainages are not cleaned, once there is heavy rainfall, it will aggravate flooding and destruction of properties will follow. But then the one we are talking about is what we call river flooding. River flooding often has to do with the rivers overflowing their banks especially in the states that are configured to Rivers Niger and Benue; these are often the ones that are most heavily affected during river flooding. On August 1, the agency received a red alert from the Niger Republic.

The setpoint was upstream of River Niger. Nigeria is downstream. So, there is a particular measuring station in Niamey. It is graded from orange to yellow and red. So, it had entered the red alert zone which was as of that time in our own measurement calibration; once it is 6.20metres, it has already entered the red alert zone. As of last Saturday, it was 6.26metres. That means alert had to be sent to Nigeria to prepare Kainji Dam to be ready.

We are safe from River Niger to some extent because of Kainji and Jebba Dam. So, immediately, we called the operators of Kainji Dam to inform them that ‘this is what is happening upstream in the Niger Republic. Now you should begin to release water from the dam’. So, as of the last time we spoke, which was some days ago, they said they were already lowering the level of their reservoir, spilling water to about 500 cubic metres per second, as against their normal discharge, to maintain environmental flow and this we have done awaiting the arrival of the one from Niger Republic which, I was informed, will be arriving in two weeks time. So, maybe in about three days to come, it will be arriving Kebbi State and have some few days travel time before it comes into Kainji Dam in Niger State. So the operators of the dam are already aware.

Does that mean that now that we are in September, the country should be on red alert?

The country is already at alert especially the operators of Dainji Dam. So I know they will get it right by lowering the level of their water so that when this big one comes from the Niger Republic, they will close their gates instead of allowing it to go under free flow and, that way, it will cause calamity. So, now they have known, they were told ahead of time, they opened their gates and allowed water to flow gradually down to Jebba Dam, Kwara and other states so that, by the time the big one that can cause calamity is arriving, they will close their gates. Water will build up in their dam. That is what we call reservoir operation.

What do you expect the governments of prone states to do? Are you monitoring closely?

I will say some of the states are taking measures but, oftentimes, it is only at the peak of flooding or rainy season that they begin to prepare. For instance, I have been in touch with Delta State. I have been calling the Commissioner for Environment. And I think the DG of the Research Management Agency has been calling other commissioners, local government chairmen, and the Patani local government chairman has been calling to be updated. FCT has been working round the clock; the DG of FCT Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has been working hard to ensure that they are not taken unawares within the FCT raising some alert. I have been talking with Lagos State too and the DG of the State Emergency Management Agency to be updated on what to expect. But much is expected to be done. It is better done during the dry season to clear the blockages because, during the rainy season, some places are already overwhelmed, flooded and you cannot clear as much as you are supposed to do. Where you are supposed to dredge canals or small rivers in your state, you won’t be able to do it well during the rainy season but, if it is during the dry season, you can excavate, clear everything to the bottom. It is more effective. What we are saying is that the fire brigade approach should be avoided. Prone states ought not to wait till June, July or August before they begin to take measures.

So how does the Federal Government come in?

My agency is part of the Federal Government. Each level of government has its own part to play. The Federal Government, through this agency, has been doing a lot to inform the public about the steps to take ahead of the looming flooding. It is expected of the state governments, even at the local level, to take measures; they have allocations to use, especially for ecological purposes, to take care of this eventuality. Are you expecting the Minister of Environment in Abuja or the Minister of Water Resources to go down to the states to discover the places they have problems? No. They have town planning authorities in the states. They have SEMA; they should be able to plough their resources towards addressing the challenges of flooding in the states. The Federal Government is also working and it is when the states are overwhelmed that the Federal Government comes in to provide relief materials through NEMA.

How much do you think will be enough in terms of finances on the part of the states and even the Federal Government to take care of these challenges?
It is a bit difficult to answer that question because I don’t know the terrain. Each state government knows its own terrain to know what it would take to address the environmental challenge. The Federal Government has so much in terms of responsibilities; there are so many things competing for the resources that are available; so the ones that are made available should be properly utilised by the states to address these issues. What I can say as an agency is that we are, like Oliver Twist, asking for more funding. Ours does not attract much publicity because we are at the upstream of flood-related emergency or disaster in the sense that we talk about the disaster before it happens, but, once it happens, we make sure that money is made available to provide relief materials. But my agency needs a lot of funding to be able to attain the optimum density of equipment is to be deployed in various parts of Nigeria to be able to monitor water-related issues, and the behaviour of our rivers. Our predictions come from the monitoring of the Nigerian rivers but we don’t have enough equipment to give you a more accurate, real-time forecast as to the flood phenomenon and the disaster that accompanies it.
People in those states where you have these red alerts have been asked to relocate. But many have refused to do so because they don’t know where to go and they don’t know what to do. How can the government intervene?

I recall that in 2012 after the flood disaster, there was a Presidential Committee on Flood Relief and Implementation chaired by Alhaji Aliko Dangote. So much money was raised. States were categorised into A, B and C depending on the severity of the flooding. I have visited what is called flood hostel in Kogi State. This is where those affected in the state are expected to relocate. And we have many such camps but the issue is that many people refuse to relocate. I was at Ibaji in Kogi State which was almost 100% covered by water. I travelled in a speedboat for more than two hours just to get there. We addressed the people standing in the boat because there was no place to put our legs, but the people said they could not relocate, they would prefer to rather go on the roof; they said that when they relocated in 2012 before they returned, their properties were vandalised and their women raped. I keep advocating that “it is better for you to be alive than for you to say you won’t relocate because your forefathers were buried in this place than for you be carried away by the flood and nobody will know where you are buried”. Nigerians are their brother’s keeper. In less than two months, you can go to any high ground to be with your relatives and save your life than to be consumed by flood. State governments should do the best they can. It is not the issue of the Federal Government alone. Yes, the Presidential Committee on Flood Relief and Implementation is there but it cannot do all. State governments should use schools, churches or mosques to relocate people for now and then something more concrete should be done in the long run.
Looking back to 2012, if you are to assess the level of damage caused by that year’s floods, what do you say?
With regard to the losses, it was NEMA that really computed the losses that we saw that year. The damages they listed ran into N2.6 trillion and more than 400 people died while more than 5,000 houses and over 5,000 farmlands were destroyed.

Isn’t there anything the government can do to permanently solve this problem or should we experience this every year?

Somebody asked me some time ago, “why is there flooding?” My response was that as long as the rain continues to fall, there will be flooding. It is not a Nigerian affair; it is all over the world. But the ability of every nation or community to adapt to it, to be able to address it, that is when we talk about resilience to be able to bounce back. Other countries suffer more than Nigeria has suffered. So the issue of flooding will continue to be here with us. So the best that can be done is to create facilities to withstand the menace, not that it can be eliminated.

What are these facilities?

One is to build an appropriate drainage system in every part of the country. Bridges should be properly designed, not that during rainfall, the bridge will be submerged or roads built without side drainages. And town planning authorities should be able to enforce regulations.

So we are not really prepared for the looming floods!

From the records available to us, the River Niger in the Niger Republic, which measures what is coming from Guinea, Mali, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, before coming to Nigeria, has begun to recede and the Labro Dam in Cameroon, which worsened the 2012 incident, is most likely not going to spill water this year. For more than four years, they have not been able to fill up the dam because of poor rainfall in the northern part of Cameroon. So, there is no possibility or likelihood of water being spilt from Labro Dam in Cameroon which often aggravates flooding in Nigeria like what happened in 2012 because they opened the dam then. So, before the flooding season ends in Nigeria, it is most likely it will not come to the level of what happened in 2018. 2012 was the highest in recent times and followed by 2018.

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