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Flooding: A Disaster Fortold

Flooding: A Disaster Fortold

Ahamefula Ogbu

While  preparations for the future of Nigeria was being made, everything was well laid out so that what plagues the nation today were planned to be positively harnessed but years down the line, they were like every other thing intended to positively impact on the development of the country, brazenly abandoned.

In an interaction some years ago with former Chief Justice of Nigeria, Alfa Modibo Belgore, he brought out a document to show what power and water resources chart of the country was planned to be; how Nigeria was to have built dams that would not only hold excess water coursing down states of the country but also to generate electricity to serve the entire country and export the excess to neighboring countries. In that plan was also elaborately designed how many dams Nigeria would have built after Cameroun was expected to have built theirs and what penalties for any country that failed to implement their part of the Memorandum of Understanding.

If that was implemented by the country, we would not have had the flood disaster we are witnessing today and even If due to climate change, we did, it would have been mitigated and not at the magnitude presently bedeviling us. So it could be said that we are now suffering the effect of not doing what we were expected to do and paying very high cost for it.

Coming down to most recent time, the Nigerian Meteorological Services in February warned that volume of rainfall expected and states about relocating people living on flood plains but as happens yearly, such are implemented more in breach and the result is the disaster that has befallen us.

Director General, National Emergency Management Agency, Mr. Mustapha Ahmed now left with handling the mitigation of the disaster had identified 233 local government areas in 32 states and the Federal Capital Territory that would be adversely affected this year and suggested remedial steps. This was in addition to 2022 Seasonal Climate Prediction released by Nigerian Meteorological Agency and the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency.

To drive home his point about the effect of not heeding his warnings, Ahmad stated that flash floods across Nigeria before the latest flooding had affected about 508,000 people, killed about 372, injured 277 and destroyed 37,633 houses while 70,000 hectares farmlands and livestock lost were also within the last eight months. His report was to bring to bear the dire effects of allowing the same problem to predictably befall the country yearly.

At the last count, 31 states across the federation and Federal Capital Territory have taken a dangerous hit with over 500 dead, 1546 injured, 1.4 million displaced while 790,254 persons as at the last count have been relocated. Reports put building partially or totally destroyed at 90,000, most, if not all submerged with property worth billions. Farmlands have either been destroyed or totally washed off with the biggest rice farm in Nassarawa State said to have suffered millions of dollars loses from their farm being submerged in floodwaters. 

The above picture may not have captured all the devastation given the poor statistical culture and the fact that there will be areas inaccessible to the authorities and figures of dead, displaced or damage done to properties would not be captured in present figures pushed out by the government.

So far, states worst hit are Adamawa, Benue, Kogi, Kwara, Anambra, Imo, Delta, Bayes from where some of the casualties were recorded. Also, this year’s flood is said to be unprecedented and that it was that of 2012 that came close to what has been witnessed though the storm is said not to be over yet as though the rains would subside in some states, rise in water level due to release of water from holding points to avoid dams busting from holding beyond their capacities is expected to continue for the next one month.

In Adamawa where the country is supposed to construct a holding breaker, peasants and those living on the river planes were hardest hit with low casualty figures though but farms and belongings were swept away by rain engendered floods. However, when the water from Lagdo dam in Cameroun arrived, it became overwhelming.

In Taraba State which is also largely agrarian, the flood left in its wake tales of woes as farmers lost a season harvest as well as newly planted crops. Houses were not spared but their luck was that the level receded within days to enable them start recovering from the tragedy. It however made refugees of most of those living in lowlands.

Benue State which has had the unfortunate problem of witnessing the flooding yearly as the Benue River is always a natural course down to River Niger to the ocean had the double misfortune of higher volume of rains and the swelling banks of the Benue River. The result was the flooding of residential areas with bungalows disappearing in the swollen banks of the river. Those who had gone to sleep before the river burst its banks simply died in their sleep as they were submerged. Worst hit were women and children.

The casualty figure in Benue State was put at 23 dead and 76 injured while over 100 communities were adversely affected which they said would have a telling effect on the agrarian state referred to as the food basket of the nation. Farmlands were not spared where over 50 per cent of the population engage in agriculture. Their means of livelihood were simply wiped out. In the Makurdi metropolis, rising water level got as high as roofs, forcing residents to flee. Nigeria Air Force Base, Kilometre Five, Gyado Villa, Wurukum, Kucha Utebe, Wadata and timber market were worst hit among others.

In Katsina, windstorm and flooding combined to wreak an unprecedented havoc in the state which spread across 34 local government areas with death toll between 24 and 42. Officials said 16,625 houses were destroyed while 1,620 farmlands were submerged in at least three council areas of Kafur, Danja and Ingawa.

In Niger State, authorities listed Rafi, Kontagora, Lavun, Wushishi, Mashegu, Magama and Gbako as the most impacted Local government which at the last count, no fewer than eight persons were confirmed dead while culverts, roads and bridges were washed away. People whose homesteads were affected have been camped in public buildings while those with relatives that could harbour them have moved to such places.

Some states were however lucky as in Gombe figures of displaced people were low with authorities quoting 500 though lamentations were rife over loss of farmlands and personal effects. The same could be said of its neighboring Bauchi State where casualty figures was put at three while 1450 houses were damaged. Farmlands and home appliances were also among part of the losses recorded in the state.

Kwara which is contiguous to Niger State recorded four deaths where the flashfloods swept a vehicle into the river. Farmlands and residential houses were affected while some bridges linking important places were washed away. It was so serious that public affairs almost ground to a halt as people feared being washed away by floods and rising water level.

Kogi State which is popularly called the confluence state took a double portion of the flooding being host to the meeting point between Rivers Niger and Benue. Though it is not new to flooding, it had never been that bad for the state as Lokoja which is the link city between both the East and Western Nigeria to core northern states was cut off as flood waters covered both the road and bridges. The bridge across the River Niger in Ajaokuta was covered while the Murtala Mohammed Bridge at Oweto was also covered by flood waters thereby rendering them impassable.

The biggest problem of both residents and those transiting through the state was that the flood cut them in-between whereas it became incurable optimism for those who waited for the flood to subside as they ended up sleeping on the road for up to a week with expected collateral damage. Being the gateway between the north and the south, those transporting perishable goods lost them while those transporting livestock also lost them as most of them died while waiting for the flooded road to reopen. Some who attempted to wade through the flood, including heavy duty trucks and trailers were washed into the river.

Of course, houses that were where people confidently built as upland became middle of rivers and boats became the means of transportation to move about inside Lokoja town. While storey buildings still had their first floors visible, bungalows cast the picture of a broad river as a single body of water without any sign of any roof because they had been submerged.

Hotels, schools and markets were hurriedly abandoned while a save our soul messages were urgently sent to National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and Ministries that could help mitigate the problem which produced its brand of refugees. So severe was the issue that President Muhammadu Buhari asked States to articulate the problems they were facing, proffer solutions and submit representations to him for urgent intervention.

If Kogi and semi urban towns in the state were helped, villages cut off by the flood were helpless, moreso with their farms submerged without access to food and potable water. Health officials feared that an outbreak of diseases were imminent.

Anambra State which borders Kogi and has the river Niger as a known landmark saw the rage of the river as it burst its banks and completely submerged its numerous riverine areas. The rate at which the flood rose in those towns and villages were so severe that a family of six that wanted to salvage few belongings before fleeing were pushed inside their house by force of the water and they all perished in Anaku which is in Ayamelum Local government. About eight local government areas of the state are in lowlands and therefore flood prone aside the fact that they are riverine.

Places hitherto considered upland in those areas were overwhelmed with flood and most of the deaths were said to have occurred at night while people had gone to bed but were drowned in their sleep so that most of the mansions which dot the area now look like palaces inside an ocean and their integrity may no longer be guaranteed after staying weeks inside water which shows no sign of abetting.

Early reports were mainly of churches which collapsed while adherents bent of going for church service deployed boats to attend only to have the force of the water weaken their foundations and they came crashing down, some on worshippers.

The most painful was a loaded boat with about 48 passengers who were fleeing upland when they noticed the rage of the flood. In a situation not yet clarified whether it was due overloading or fast moving current but reports had erroneously put the number at 85 but the boat driver who survived said he had 48 passengers out of who 37 were unaccounted for.

Trust Nigerians, in the midst of that tragedy came what may qualify as comic relief; a local water goddess priest and traditionalist, Onyeso Ezendu claimed to have consulted the spirits on cause of the tragedy and claimed the water mermaid told him she was not happy with the traffic on the waterway because of the poor state of the road in the area as its peace was constantly being disturbed.

Hear Ezendu, “We did some consultations with the queen (water goddess) and she told us that she was angry with government.

” We asked her why she was angry with government? She said the state government has refused to do a major road in the area that got spoilt recently. She said the bad road has made most people in the locality to travel by river to disturb her (water goddess) peace.

“She said before the road got spoilt, majority of the people in the area travelled by road. She said the river is meant to be quiet for aquatic life to thrive.

“We are looking for ways to appease the queen to avoid more mishaps because she threatened that more harm would occur on that route of the river if the government refused to do the road.”

The man who manned the capsized boat confessed that he wasn’t the one that use to handle it, adding that his elder brother was but because he was not available, he was asked to convey the passengers. It was while midstream that the engine went off and while he was trying to restart it that the current rocked the boat and shifted it off course and it hit one of the pillars of the submerged Osamala Bridge that has been abandoned and the boat capsized

Surprisingly, death toll in neighboring Delta State has not been on the scale of Anambra next door as so far, three deaths have been reported and that was when flash flood swept away a child and the mother though it wreaked havoc on infrastructure like roads and bridges that it washed away and buildings. At least 3,233 houses were submerged while inland towns, villages and settlements have been rendered inhabitable.

Oguta area of Imo State which is prone to flooding also had its fair share this year especially Abacheke in Ohaji/Egbema Local government where over 15 communities were also submerged. They had to set up temporary abodes in schools not affected and called on government to come to their aid. Communities in Bayelsa State which have been affected include Biseni, Odi, Tombia-Ekpetiama, Sampou, Kaiama, Gbaranma Sabagreia, Okoloba, and some places in Southern Ijaw like Azuzu Ama. Being mainly riverine, most people heeded the warning to relocate but those that refused have had their abodes overtaken by water. Places which had water barriers are so far protected especially in the Kolokuma/Opokuma areas up to Kaiama

In Rivers State which is expected to bear the final brunt of the flooding as they host the last channels for the water to empty into the sea, four local governments have so far been impacted, added to rising sea levels due to the melting of the ice cap, they are expected to be more impacted what with the prediction that more rains and flooding should be expected but so far, there have not been damning results of the flooding in the state.

However, Omoku and Obrikom areas which feed straight from Orashi River and its tributaries have always had coastal erosion issues which they blame on activities of companies prospecting in oil and gas. The two areas have had their houses submerged and their farms destroyed by flood. The natives complained so bitterly and took the press round their flooded areas that Governor Nyesom Wike pledged N1 billion to cushion the effect on flood victims in the state. Two days after the worst floods in Lokoja and Anam area of Anambra State, the water moved down and took over the East-West Road, sweeping vehicles off the road, cutting the road in several places and totally halting vehicular and pedestrian traffic on the ever busy road.

Speaking in a gathering to assess and plan towards better management of the flooding disaster at the Hydro-meteorological status and outlook system (HydroSOS) in Abuja, Director General of NiMet, Prof. Mansur Bako Matazu warned that the north central and south east zones should  brace up for more flooding.

Matazu while assessing the current flood impact across the country, explained that though flooding as a result of rainfall may have reached its peak, the opening of dams and other water holding facilities could still affect states in north central and the south-east.

“You remember, we issued the forecast in February and we followed up with the monthly updates that we are going to have above normal rainfall in most part of the country.

“So in terms of the rainfall-induced floods, we have seen the peak, but remember we told you that this rainwater gets collected into the reservoirs and dams, and whenever they are filled, it gets filled.

“So on September 13, the Lagdo dam was released. Other dams were also released. So what we are witnessing now is riverine flooding. And from the information we are getting, we are going to see more flood.

“And now the rains are concentrating in the north-central and the southern states. So that will be a combination of short duration, high intensity rain, with riverine flooding. “We are going to see more of these floods in the north central states as we have seen in Kogi and also south eastern and south-western states as we are beginning to see in Anambra and some of parts of south-west,” he explained.

Matazu while speaking on the HydroSOS workshop added: “It is no longer news to anyone here that water-related hazards and threats has become a global challenge in the face of a changing climate coupled with population growth and increasing socio-economic activities.

“Every year water-related hazard affects millions of people globally and cause damages to properties worth billions of dollars. It is expected that water-associated risks are going to intensify in the coming years as the full weight of climate change begin to bear on our earth.

” In Africa, water-related hazards such as flood, drought have become a major cause of food insecurity, strains on livelihoods, health risks and conflicts in many parts of the continent.

“Water-related challenges facing governments at all levels include securing water supplies, designing appropriate water governance schematic, sustaining the management of trans-boundary basins, managing flood and/or drought as well as ensuring the protection and conservation of our ecosystem.

“It has been observed that one of the major factors to effectively manage water resources and address some of the above challenges is the availability of hydro-meteorological information and products targeted to serve the needs of the different sectors.”

If what Matazu has predicted comes through, given the level of flooding and devastation already witnessed, then the country would be in a catastrophe the magnitude of which will require global attention and help.

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