Nigeria’s Hollow Flood Alerts

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The authorities have issued flood warnings for areas around major rivers and told people living in such places to evacuate to safer grounds, but what about the plans to take care of the evacuees? Vincent Obia writes

The Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency on Wednesday warned communities and people living around major rivers and tributaries in the country to “immediately relocate to safer and higher grounds.” NIHSA said the evacuation advice became necessary to enable residents of the affected places to escape danger from imminent flooding as a result of heavy rainfall and rise in water levels in Niger Republic and other countries within the Niger basin. Director-general of the agency, Moses Beckley, said the flood warning was based on information from the Niger Basin Authority, which has its headquarters in Niamey, Niger Republic, and local measurement of water levels.

That was less than one week after the National Emergency Management Agency issued a similar advice urging communities along the River Niger to evacuate immediately to safer ground over the huge likelihood of floods.

But the warnings sound too ordinary and boring to produce anything useful. They are largely devoid of purpose, initiative, and strategy. Such alerts ought to have, at least, advised the potentially endangered communities on where to go, how to go there, and plans to take care of their welfare for the period they would be away from their homes. Which is the standard in civilised societies.

Emergency warnings are meant essentially to save lives and livelihoods, as well as reduce the pain of the emergency situation on the affected population. They are not routinized doomy messages pitched to merely frighten people.

Yet, in a doom-laden forecast on Wednesday, Beckley told Nigerians, “This high level of water in Niger Republic is already spreading to Benin Republic, and invariably, to Nigeria.” He said the water levels had already surpassed the heights that caused the 2012 nationwide flood disaster, said to be the worst the country had seen in 50 years. “If the heavy rainfall continues in intensity and duration within these regions of the River Niger, it is imminent that flood situation similar to that of year 2012 may occur,” the NIHSA director-general stated.

Beckley said the forecasts were “sending a strong signal to dwellers within the flood plains to relocate immediately to safer and higher grounds.” He said the flooding would be experienced in many parts of the country, especially in areas around River Niger, River Benue, Kainji Dam, and the Lokoja Confluence.

In a similar vein, NEMA’s director-general, Muhammad Sidi, was quoted as saying on August 6, “Niger Basin Authority notified Nigeria that rainy season, which started in the Middle Niger (Burkina Faso and Niger Republic) in June 2016, has led to a gradual rise of the level of River Niger in Niamey, Niger Republic. This high level of water in Niger Republic is already spreading to Benin Republic, and invariably, to Nigeria.”

Both messages contain little on contingency arrangements to look after the intended evacuees from the danger spots. There is hardly any information on emergency shelters, feeding, and medical services for the expected evacuees.

By the latest warnings, the authorities have shown yet again that, like in the 2012 disaster, they simply want to wobble over the flood issue and hope on luck, while jettisoning thoughts of a permanent solution. This, unfortunately, is the wont of operators of many public institutions in the country.

It goes to show that the country has learnt nothing from the tragic experience of 2012, when in many of the 36 states of the federation whole communities were submerged by floodwater, with grave economic consequences. Experts have highlighted the need for government at all levels to embark on flood prevention and mitigation measures, which include construction and maintenance of free-flowing drainage systems and hydraulic structures, like dams and reservoirs.

But it is doubtful if any tangible steps have been taken to put the measures in place, especially since the calamitous experience of 2012. Many believe if the authorities had taken enough safety precautions, the over 140 deaths recorded across the country in the 2012 floods and the accompanying catastrophic effect on economic activities could have been considerably reduced.

But the emergency and meteorological agencies have an opportunity to change the negative meme. They should come up with a comprehensive plan to take care of the welfare of those who would be leaving their homes, during the coming floods and in the immediate post-flood period.

And to avert future disasters, all the stakeholders should strive to develop permanent and effective solutions to the flood problem.