AVERTING DISASTERS ACROSS NIGERIA

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The authorities could do more to cushion the impact of disasters

Recent cases of flooding, fire outbreak, building collapse and other disasters across the country have warranted the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to estimate that Nigeria many need about N3 trillion to curb such challenges across the country next year. The money, according to the agency, will be used to provide short term relief and replacement of damaged infrastructure. Whatever may be the motivation for the humongous financial estimates, the fact also remains that we have no credible disaster management plan in Nigeria.

We have over the years observed a somehow unsettling routine in the operation of national and states’ emergency agencies. In most cases, these agencies are reactive rather than proactive in their responses to the challenges of averting disaster. Therefore, the newly created Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs, Disaster Management and Social Development should grow beyond merely paying visits and commiserating with victims of flooding and fire disaster. The ministry must evolve a sustainable and robust development and disaster preparedness management plan for our urban space. Having in place such plan will mitigate, prevent and ensure a high level of preparedness and appropriate responses during emergencies.

However, it is unfortunate that recurring floods, fire outbreak and other disasters keep constituting a serious threat to sustainable development in the country. Examples are the recent fire outbreaks in Balogun Market, Lagos and Zangon Kanwa market in Gashua, Yobe State. Those two cases proved to be an unmitigated loss for the traders and the Nigerian economy. It defies logic that in spite of repeated warnings every year, lives and property continue to be lost to flooding. The unfortunate reality right before our faces is that flooding has remained a yearly feature in our country due to inadequate infrastructure in many of the cities to mitigate the occurrence.

In the rainy season, many of our cities are flooded because drains are blocked by silts. The problem is also structural as many of our urban communities are defective in terms of planning with no provision for street gutters to ease off storm waters. A report by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said that arising from the breaching of the water level of Rivers Niger and Benue this year, no fewer than 18,640 people (3,104 households) were affected by floods in 54 communities in Taraba, Cross River, Kogi and Niger States.

Prior to the floods, the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA), had released its annual flood outlook in July, detailing 74 local government areas in 30 states in Nigeria likely to experience severe flooding between July to October 2019. Some of the causes of flooding are self-inflicted by residents of these communities who are fond of dumping refuse on waterways. We have also seen many instances where people arbitrarily put up structures on flood plains and water channels without approval. This act of lawlessness obstructs water flow and makes the areas around the waterways prone to flooding. Beside the loss of lives and destruction of property, the economic consequence of flooding for the country can be dire.

Flash flooding does so much damage to the eco-system and destroys public utilities. It also elevates the risk of hunger and malnutrition because of disruption of farm lands and commercial losses for farmers engaged in subsistence farming. With its urbanisation rate put at 5.5 per cent yearly and considered one of the highest rate in the world, the number of Nigerians at risk or vulnerable to flood hazards is likely to increase. In addition to risk in the transmission of communicable water-borne diseases, such disasters will threaten development gains and hinder the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs).

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The new ministry must evolve a sustainable and robust development and disaster preparedness management plan for our urban space