Edifying Elucidations BY OKEY Ikechukwu
Even the weather man does not really have a cogent explanation anymore. Climate change? Yes, perhaps. But the unrelenting downpour leaves little room for the prevarication with which we face all serious issues around here. As I write, it is raining in many parts of the country; and this is the end of October. It rained all through July, August, September and the last three weeks. Not once in a while, but almost on a daily basis. The rainforest belt, the Savannah, the arid and semi-arid north faced the same fate of merciless, endless and confounding rainfall. Anon, hitherto impregnable neighbourhoods were flooded, even in Abuja. Roads, already barely motorable at the peak of the dry season and in the best of times, became swamps. Many road users now probably regret the fact that they have cars, instead of versatile boats.
More rainfall means more run-off water. More run-off water in quick succession means more flooding of vulnerable, and not so vulnerable, areas. It also means more soil erosion, more loss of crops and more loss of habitable space for human beings. These, in turn, translate into more social and security problems. Are we ready, or getting ready for what is to come? Are we even paying attention to the signs and dangers everywhere?
Consider the Lokoja and Anam floods of some 10 years ago. Some of the buildings inundated by water at the time are still partly under water. That is because the water level never quite retreated to where it was before the flood. Yes, many people now live with the painful discovery that they were actually living in buildings erected on what used to be riverbeds, or the water fronts and flood plains of rivers. And there is nothing anyone can do about it now. You cannot negotiate with the water, or show it your C of O signed by your governor. Decades of excessive damming created quasi dry lands and semi-swamps which were converted into building sites. The floods of that time, arising from the release of excess water from dams in Cameroun, came and showed that much of the city was/is actually living on what is not-land.
And the situation is far worse today, as can be readily observed by anyone who travels through Lokoja. There are just too many partially submerged buildings around the area. The waters are moving in with determination. And it is not just Lokoja, parts of Anambra State, or Lagos State, no. It is all over the nation and it is all over the globe. The cities of Jakarta, London, Dhaka, Bangkok, and New Orleans are sinking as I write. The water levels are rising. Global warming is a not mere climatic fact. The ice caps are melting with incredible alacrity at the poles, as can be gleaned from what is left of Larsen A and Larsen B sheets today. Should the world expect sea levels not to rise when the volume of ice predicted to melt in 29 years melts down in less than three years?
Looking at Lagos Island and Lekki Peninsular in particular, every peninsular is a tiny piece of land jutting out into the ocean or sea. It is like a finger sticking out of the side of a basin into a basin of water. This does not mean that it is floating, no. It only means that this piece of land is so laughably small, narrow and insignificant compared with the massive aquatic reality into which it is poking. A strong enough demonic tsunami could sweep everything from one side of a peninsular across and into the opposite side of the ocean.
It is perhaps far worse when a peninsular, already geologically and geographically vulnerable, is largely made up of reclaimed land. The land so reclaimed is only compacted by pressure and mass. It has limited “cementing” material as such, despite improvements in building technology over time. Rising water levels can always progressively claim the original habitat, as the case of my good friend who was among the first set of people to build on the newly reclaimed sections of the peninsular proves. He heeded good counsel in the 90s and sold off his very elegant building for a truly handsome figure. Were he to be living there today, he would be the proud owner of a canoe for movement in his neighbourhood.
The greater danger to reclaimed land, which is far worse than any tsunami, especially in places like Lagos and environs, is the possibility of earth movements, or quakes. The usual thing during earthquakes is that building collapse and some sink if a lot of damage is done to the topography. It needs a lot more than is humanly available, or possible, to withstand sustained or sudden violent vibrations. But an earthquake in something like a reclaimed area will see more houses out rightly sinking into the ground, than collapsing and shattering. This is due to what is called “soil liquefaction.” The story of the New Mexico City, where some very tall buildings sank like sausage in a pot of stew, is something of a lasting lesson.
Which brings us to the brand new, custom-made five-mile island called Eko Atalntic city in Lagos. While Lagos itself is slowly going under water, with Victoria Island (a sponge island) barely out of the sea most of the year. None of the islands and peninsulas making up Lagos as we know it stands much higher than the regular sea level. The nearness of the Atlantic Ocean is another matter, which also accounts for its peculiar geological and other challenges. Now add all that to the rising global water levels due to climate change and you have the perfect mix of variables for trouble. Any budding soothsayer who predicts that it is only a matter of time before Lagos, parts of Edo, Delta, Ogun, rivers, and many other South South states face unprecedented water-borne environmental challenges would be correct.
Still on Lagos, it is a matter of record that the mote built into the water decades ago, to enhance the shipping potentials of the Lagos lagoon, is partly, if not largely, responsible for the disappearance of the mile-long Barbeach over time. Water kept eating the beach away, until it was no more. Not quite done, the water continued until it ate up one lane of the adjoining Ahmadu Bello Way. It also sacked the School of Oceanography. Everyone ignore that fact that it was partly due to the alteration of the natural coastal water movement, as occasioned by the artificial construction, that made this happen. This is quite apart from the disruption of the aquatic life and destruction of coral reefs and other marine life that helped maintain the environmental ecosystem. Even though the damage is unrepaired till today, there is a grand project trying to ground itself on solid rock by erecting a city straight from the ocean floor. This city is being built on dredged up and filled land of about nine kilometers. So we are talking about a new, man-made peninsula in place of the Barbeach.
That is the worry. Already the fact that the smart, new city, with proposed super luxury apartments, impressive skyscrapers, and all manner of districts will not be subject to the routine mischief of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN) has made it a runaway success. Yes, it will have regular electricity supply because it will get its power from private sources. The problem, however, is whether it will be the living space with the guarantees it claims in its kitty.
Lagos is ordinarily prone to the dangers associated with rising sea levels. Mild and strong waves have their effects too. Then you want to talk of outright ocean surges? When, in 2012, a storm surge around the very construction area of the city killed 16 people, the project owners showcased a well-designed wall “The Great Wall of Lagos”. This is more or less a sea wall that envelopes the city all round, to protect it from the effects of strong water movements in its aquatic environment. While some pointed out that the very event that triggered the idea of a protective wall, that is disruptions, is caused by the project itself, defenders of the project argued otherwise. But it is not easy to escape scrutiny in scientific matters on issues such as this.
The questions for us here are: (1) Will the wall around the city not create other environment problems, especially for contiguous areas? (2) Will waters hitting the wall at lower levels not create eddies that could build up over time into a steady swivel that may ultimately undermine the very wall itself, especially beginning with the edges? (3) How will the rest of Lagos fare in all of this? (4) What will happen to any nearby island, or peninsular, if the deflected water is strong enough to reach it with strong impact? For a Lagos that is largely nothing more than a sprawling set of small islands, some of them peat, alluvial deposits and debris from denudation without protective walls, we may have cause to worry. Add the fact that these surrounding areas, which are unprotected by any walls, are also standing much lower and closer to average sea level than Eko Atlantic. It is all very scary.
But, returning to the rains and allied matters, we live in unusual times. There has not been any real “August break,” for decades now. The Lake Chad is practically gone and the local fishing economy with it. Villages bordering the lake have moved with the receding water, totally inattentive to artificial political borders and immigration rules. Re-desertification has occurred in sections of the North-east and other parts of the country abandoned for too long due to insurgency. More and more people earning physical cash, with fewer people producing what money can buy. Do all these things portend more than meets the eye?