October 18, 2022

Flood, passivity, and acting urgently to forestall a ruined future

By Dakuku Peterside

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 per cent of the world population, face significant flood risk. 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 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 LagdoDam in neighbouring Cameroon has also been blamed for the devastating floods. Beyond these statistics is the individual human tragedy of colossal proportions that beats our imagination. People have lost their livelihoods. The elderly and sick are displaced, food and necessities are scarce, and life becomes drudgery and misery.

All these are on top of the stifling economic crisis that every Nigerian contends. Climate change and its impacts are more of a worldwide conversation than a local one. And we hope the UN Climate Change Conference 2022 (UNFCCC COP 27) in Egypt in November 2022 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.  

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, based on scientific evidence, predicted the current flood ravaging our country, but nobody showed authentic leadership to provide solutions.

Our leaders did not even benefit from past experiences and availability of expertise. These floods did not start this year, and Nigeria was affected in 2010 and 2012. We have enough time to have learnt lessons. But there have now been many years of recurring flood disasters, and from this most recent development, it is evident that we have learnt no lessons. What lessons must we take from this flooding problem, 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 is the problem, but the lack of effective and efficient use of the analysis from the data to plan and put in place measures to either prevent the flooding or reduce its impact.

Our leaders act as if all environmental emergencies are Acts of God and, therefore, inevitable, and this is baseless and ignorance. Too much rain alone or overflowing rivers does 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 put in place measures to protect their homes and valuables.

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 better plan 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 Nigerians living in flood-prone areas. There should be scientific information on flooding, which should be made available to locals residing in the suspected flooding areas. The institutions saddled with this responsibility must be alive to it and be accountable if they fail to gather scientific data, analyse them, and inform the people about the impending flood.

I must note that in the case of the Lokoja flooding, institutions provided scientific information and early warning signals about the flooding, but nothing much was done by the leadership or even the  first line of defence against flood – the people. 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 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 impact of flooding.

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, Federal Government 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 government must desist from allocating land for building in designated flood plains and flood-prone areas, allowing for the construction of houses that block natural water flowing routes, or not having an effective drainage system to control flooding. The national emergency response regime must be prioritised and adequately funded to help prevent disaster (flooding) rather than reacting to the disaster. The legislature should provide a robust and adequate legal framework 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, it is time to embrace it and champion it in Africa. 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 tonnes emitted in 2020, followed by the US with 4,713 million metric tonnes of total carbon dioxide emissions by 2020. Nigeria’s emission is relatively and comparatively insignificant.