Benue’s Devastating Flood

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A devastating flood that is currently ravaging some communities in Benue State is a wakeup call to pro-active leadership, writes Anayo Okolie

An estimated 110,000 people were reportedly left homeless while three were confirmed dead by the flood that sacked some communities in Benue State penultimate week. Apart from rendering thousands homeless, the disaster also washed away villages, farmlands and food storage facilities among others.

In 2012, some parts of Nigeria suffered disastrous floods, scores of people died, and some two million people were reportedly left homeless. The current disaster however sacked communities in Makurdi, Apa, Agatu, Otukpo, Guma, Buruku, Tarka and Kasina-Ala Local Government Areas of the state.

The worst hit areas, according to the State Emergency Management Agency (SEMA) include Achusa, Idye, Welfare Quarters, Mobile Barracks, New Kanshio Layout, Wadata market, Wurukum market, Gyado villa, Kucha Utebe, Breweries, Nyiman layout, Behind Civil Service Commission, Radio Benue, Industrial layout, BIPC quarters, Uniagric road, Katungu, Genabe, Behind Officon, Uniagric study centre, Behind GTBank, Wadata old prison, Agboughul- wadata and Demekpe communities.

A statement released by SEMA disclosed that in Achusa, about 200 houses were affected with 5,125 persons displaced. In Idye, 217 houses were affected while 5,200 persons were displaced. Also, behind the Civil Service Commission, 200 houses were submerged in flood and 5,777 persons displaced.

At Genabe, 200 houses were also affected with 5,021 persons displaced; 218 houses around the Wurukum market were affected with 1,000 persons displaced, and at Wadata market, 150 houses were affected and 4,300 persons were displaced. At Industrial Layout, 69 houses were flooded and 4,310 persons displaced; in Demekpe, 111 houses were affected while 7,820 persons were displaced.

The statement further revealed that 137 houses were flooded in Katungu with 6,031 persons displaced while at Agboughul-Wadata, 201 houses were affected and 5,728 persons displaced.
Although two camps have been set up in Makurdi to accommodate those rendered homeless, a total of 4,776 people have been registered from 546 households. However, cases of malaria, typhoid fever and diarrhoea have been reported in the camps.

Commissioner for Health in the state, Cecelia Ojabo, said: “Five cases of diarrhoea had been reported. But we have no outbreak of any disease and officials working round the clock to ensure that everyone gets adequate care in this camp.”

Some residents have however accused the Benue State government of doing nothing to protect the citizens and the state from flood disaster over the years.
Floods could be caused either as a result of natural causes or human activities. Floods are caused by discharge of huge volume of water in a short span of time, at a rate, such that the water cannot be carried away from the scene of discharge.

Most often, the localised flooding is caused due to human activities but a natural phenomenon might trigger it. There are some places, which get flooded almost every year, and in most situations, flood prone areas are quite known and precautions are taken.

Sometimes, it might not be possible to prevent a flood, even if there was prior alert that it’s about to get flooded. But there are certain actions that could be taken to reduce the impact significantly, or to reduce the possibility of flooding.

The first step, according to disastermgmt.org,is to keep the drainage system clean. This allows water to be carried down very fast. Choked drains cause a significant reduction in the ability and speed of the water to be drained away. In most situations of urban flooding, this is a major cause.

The drains might get choked due to the throwing of solid-wastes inside storm drains. These solid wastes might include construction material, plastics, paper etc. This is a clear example of how human activities can amplify the process of flooding. Drains might also get choked due to falling tree-leaves etc.

However, general clean-up of streets, disastermgmt.org disclosed, is also important. As rain-water falls down the street, it rushes into the storm drains. If the streets are not clean, the rain water trying to go into the drain carries solid wastes into the drain with itself, which then obstructs the flow of water by the drainage system.
A rain water harvesting system, which enables the rain-water flow down the drains, has been suggested. But it has also been discovered to put a lot of stress on the drainage system.

So, if there are several rain-water harvesting systems, the rainfall in that much area would try to go to the sub-soil of the region locally, rather than straining the drainage system. Lower is the amount of water trying to go through the drainage system, the easier it is for the drainage system to drain off the water.

In order to prevent or reduce future disaster, Benue State Governor Samuel Ortom has said henceforth, refuse should be dumped only at designated areas to avoid littering the streets and blocking drainages. The governor assured the people that government would complete the drainage channel that was started in 2004 to empty water into River Benue, adding that if completed, it would go a long way in addressing the challenge.

The state government also called on the federal government to include Benue in the states to benefit from the N1.6 billion ecological intervention fund, saying since 2013, the state had not received any ecological assistance from the federal government. The state government believes that if adequate budgetary provisions were made, many disasters may be mitigated since natural disasters could only be controlled.

The George Akume-led administration awarded a N2.2 billion contract to CAD Nigeria Limited for the construction of water drainage channel that would control all the running waters down to River Benue, but the project was abandoned. Over 4000 households were submerged, property worth millions destroyed and scores died in the 2012 flood disaster. So, the need for the state government and people of the state to adhere to the preventive measures to avoid such massive disaster to reoccur is paramount.

However, unlike the opposition party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) refused to politicise the matter but condemn the response of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to the flood disaster.
Sympathising with the government and people of the state, PDP in a statement advised the federal government to be more proactive and condemned the response of NEMA to the disaster.

“We condemn the slow response of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) on the disaster. We wonder why NEMA, an agency created by the federal government with the mandate to respond speedily in times of emergency will wait for the so-called “Presidential Directives” before performing its duties.

“In view of the above, we consider NEMA’s action unfortunate and unprofessional. We therefore advise all agencies of government whose duty it is to provide emergency services to do so promptly in order to save lives. We call on both the states and federal governments to be more proactive by taking adequate steps to put in place mechanisms that will curtail such level of disaster in other flood-prone areas across the country.
“Finally, we pray for the souls of all those that lost their lives to rest in perfect peace and console all the affected families to bear this irreparable loss.”

As part of moves to controlling the menace of flooding, the federal government has promised to dredge River Benue and construct additional drainage systems, even as President Muhammadu Buhari expressed optimism that the dredging of the river would provide permanent solution to the problem, hoping that the dredging would not only tackle flooding but also create job opportunities for the youth.

“We need to look at a realistic solution to this problem. The dredging of River Benue is very important in addressing this flood issue and we will do something about it. The intention of the federal government is not just to assist flood victims but also to find ways of providing real opportunities to help Nigerians improve their standard of living, Buhari said.”

To think that flooding and its menace have become a yearly challenge to deal with also suggests that government must be proactive in addressing the problems. While the natural influences can be mitigated to reduce the effect of the havoc, the human activities can be tamed significantly and this is where leadership comes to play. It is hope that the people and government of Benue will learn from this very ugly experience.