By Jimoh Babatunde
A report by the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS says addressing flooding in Lagos should involve tackling improper waste disposal through participatory waste management.
The report titled Interconnected Disaster Risks 2021/2022 noted that the approach involves bringing regional and municipal governments together with community groups and residents to secure funds, organize training and co-develop waste management plans.
The report added that the approach has been implemented successfully to address waste management issues in countries such as Japan, the Netherlands, Uganda, Thailand and India .
” The informal waste economy in Lagos operates on the trade of recyclable materials in West Africa, and incorporating this into the city’s waste reform agenda would advance
inclusive development that can improve people’s lives.
“Incorporating the informal waste economy in such a way would also include integrating informal garbage collectors using wheelbarrows (known as “cart pushers”) into formal municipal waste management systems, considering their role in reaching interior and
flood-prone areas, while minimizing the amount of unregulated dumping .
“Hence, a more inclusive waste management system would in turn increase the capacity for waste evacuation and disposal while educing the tendencies of indiscriminate disposal of waste.”
Dr. Jack O’Connor, a Senior Scientist, UNU-EHS and the Lead author, Interconnect Disaster Risks report, said we need to change the way we see disasters.
” Disasters don’t just happen. They are the result of a hazard, like a flood or a heatwave for example, meeting our vulnerabilities and exposure on a structural and societal level.
“For example, an earthquake of the same strength will have a different impact somewhere like Haiti compared to somewhere like Japan or New Zealand.
“This has to do with how resilient infrastructure and governance of risks are in different places. This also relates to things like risk perceptions and levels of inequality.
Jack O’Connor added ” So we see the disasters on the news as the tip of the iceberg, but the problems we need to fix are hidden underneath.
“We can deal with disasters when they occur, but unless we fix these underlying problems then disasters will continue to occur again and again. “
He said some key drivers that they saw behind the 10 cases of disasters they investigated were: atmospheric warming, which exacerbated extreme weather events and environmental degradation (as seen in the cases of Hurricane Ida or Mediterranean Wildfires for example)
“vulnerable infrastructure, which was overwhelmed and unable to cope with extreme events (as seen in the cases of the Haiti Earthquake and the Taiwan drought for example); deforestation, which reduced protection from hazards by natural ecosystems (as seen in the Tonga volcano eruption and the Madagascar food crisis) urbanization in hazard prone areas, which resulted in ecosystem loss and lack of social protection systems for vulnerable people (as seen in the cases of the Lagos Floods and Hurricane Ida).
He said “these are some examples, but many more are contained in the report. “These drivers relate to behaviours and mindsets that we need to change in order to take more effective action.
The top root causes behind the drivers listed above and others include: insufficient risk governance: the inadequate measures taken to reduce vulnerability, via insufficient cooperation / communication between different authorities, actions focused on risk reduction in vulnerable communities or ensuring the resilience of critical infrastructure leads on to some of the drivers listed above and in the report.
“Under-valuing environmental costs: the prioritization of economic profits with low priority or disregard for the environmental impacts also lead to drivers identified in the report.
“Inequality of development opportunities: this root cause related to the lack of livelihoods or tenuous living conditions in certain areas either drove the movement of people into risky situations.
“The yearly flood occurrence in Lagos is attributed to increasing development and urban expansion – encroachment on natural water channels, unregulated land reclamation and sand-filling of lagoons as well as historical dredging and sea reclamation to increase the urban territory.
“As of the year 2019, the built-up areas accounted for about 50 per cent of land use in Lagos, twice as much as there was in 2000.
“This change has subsequently increased the areas vulnerable to flooding from 1 per
cent of the city in 2000 to nearly 35 per cent in 2019.
“As Lagos is already a very congested city, its annual population growth of 5.7 per cent, inadequate law enforcement, regulations, poor land-use planning and the creation of informal settlements have led to development in wetlands and waterways, replacing natural drainage systems with impervious surfaces and bringing people into areas with high flood risk.
“Additionally, urbanization into wetland and floodplain areas is by far the biggest
driver of loss of coastal ecosystems valuable for coastal protection and coping capacity of coastal communities.
” In the past decade alone, 59 per cent of the wetlands in Lagos have already been lost, attributable to urbanization, which is directly linked to the reduction of flood protection capacity and the worsening flood problem.”
The report also identified sand mining as a major cause of flooding in Lagos state.
“The coastal location of Lagos and the ecological dynamics occurring on its waterfront make it a preferred destination for sand miners.
“Lagos has the two sand sources relevant to the construction sector: on the one hand, sand from the seabed, which is mainly used for land reclamation; and on the other hand, sand from shorelines, rivers and lakes, which is ideal for construction material due to its shape and cut.
“Due to its quality and purity the price of sand dredged from the sea is approximately four times higher than sand shovelled from the coastline.”
The report added that the unsustainable dredging of sands is causing the loss of water habitats, destruction of wetlands, weakening of the seabed, loss of fishes, loss of livelihoods, coastal erosion and increasing perennial flooding in the communities that are bordered by the lagoon and Atlantic Ocean.
The report also noted that communities – even those distant from mining activities – face risks not only of flooding but also of landslides and subsidence, among other hazards.
Asked if land reclaimed from the sea is not a contributory factor to flooding in other parts of Lagos.
Dr. Jack O’Connor said from their research it seemed there is evidence to show that coastal erosion has been moved to other areas, “which makes sense, as the material for such reclaimed land must come from somewhere, but also the changes in hydrology due to such large-scale alteration of the coastline means that erosion processes are affected along the coastline.
“This makes the problem worse again for some of the vulnerable communities living outside the reclaimed area.
Also asked if the researchers take into consideration the challenges of the use of plastic and nylon in the country when looking at the flooding issue in Lagos, he said they did not.
“We did not delve into plastics and nylon in particular, even though the issue of plastic pollution is a major environmental and social issue around the world.
“Perhaps, we will have a chance to delve into this further in the next report.” Dr. Jack O’Connor said they did identify solid waste management and the maintenance of drainage infrastructure in Lagos as a driver of the floods.
” I can point out that the main focus of the report is on solutions. Each case has an example of a solution package that can help to address the issue from multiple angles.
” In the Lagos Floods case, part of addressing the floods could be through participatory management programs that help to bridge the gap of governments and private citizens to find waste management approaches that will work on the ground in vulnerable communities.
“Each solution in the report has a broader solution category.” He said one of the solutions under “Work Together” says Conservation and restoration of coastal ecosystems can help stabilize coastlines and build resilience to threats such as sea level rise, erosion and storm surge.
“Mangrove forests, for example, are found extensively along Nigeria’s coast, including in Lagos, and are being degraded at an alarming rate. Restoring mangrove forests and
other vegetated ecosystems can provide multiple coastal benefits for addressing the drivers of flood risk in Lagos.
Other solutions categories include “Consume sustainably”, which noted that the demand for sand can be reduced by reclaiming materials through urban mining.
“Urban mining consists of storing, processing and recovering raw material from urban waste, such as construction and demolition waste, which can then be used again in construction or other sectors at a comparable cost to the original raw materials.
“While urban mining provides useful pathways to more sustainable consumption
of resources and a reduced demand pressure to mine raw materials, governments need to step up and provide regulations, incentives and support, including the enhancement of producer responsibility, to make this solution more effective.
“If alternative building materials are not feasible in a given context, then promoting responsible sand purchasing is another way to reduce sand consumption.”