So, Who Heeds the Flood Warnings?

So, Who Heeds the Flood Warnings?

Kayode Komolafe

0805 500 1974

About a month ago,  the national hydrological agency  issued another warning  that the country  might experience more flooding  this year. It is not, however, clear if policymakers and members of the public alike are taking the expert warnings seriously enough by embarking on actions necessary to avoid looming  disasters. Hundreds of people died last year while thousands were displaced by floods. Material damage was estimated to run into billions of naira across the country. A similar story is unfolding this year.  

According to the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) about  178 local government areas  in 32 states and Abuja were still at risk from severe flooding.

In February, the hydrological agency released a report entitled  the  Annual Flood Outlook (2023 AFO). On that occasion in Abuja, the director-general of NIHSA,  Engr. Clement Nze,  as usual, drew the country’s attention to  the imperative  of early action to mitigate the danger  of the predicted flooding.

The report specified areas of low and  high  risks of flooding in states such as .

Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Edo, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, and Rivers. Some cities such as Abuja, Lagos, Ibadan, and Port Harcourt were particularly mentioned  in the report as being prone to urban floods.

As predicted by the hydrological agency,   flood disasters were actually reported in April in about 20 states with the  loss of lives, massive displacements, devastated farmlands and submerged homes. The disasters have been reported  in about 50 local government areas spread across the affected states.  And, of course, the release of water last month from the Lagdo dam in the Cameroon  has also worsened the humanitarian crisis arising from flooding. The dam began releasing water in August at a rate of 200 cubic meters per second; but  the hydrological agency has reportedly reduced the  rate to 50 cubic meters per second. 

The pertinent question now is this: how are governments at all levels and indeed the public at large bracing up for more floods in the immediate future? The poor response to the flood alerts at official and unofficial levels could be located within  a general trend: the awareness about the issues of the environment is still at a low stage in this country. This is despite the yeoman’s  job of the few resolute environment activists making efforts to boost awareness as private individuals  and  organisations.      

In an important reflection on the recent earthquake in Morocco and the unfolding humanitarian crisis  resulting from the Libyan floods ,  a fellow columnist, Olusegun Adeniyi, observed last Thursday on this page that the  Nigerian government and people “are   too consumed by their existential challenges” to worry about the lot of the Moroccans and Libyans. Now, are  Nigerians in parts of the country even bothered about flooding  (in other parts of the country)  until they experience the disasters in their areas? Adeniyi underlined a trend of seeming indifference that  could possibly be explained by  the factor of mental and physical distance. The point at issue is  that the  same subjective distance  could be observed in relating to the flood disasters within Nigeria.  

What could be the explanation for the apparent irresponsibility  in matters of environment?  Flood alerts are largely ignored by the three tiers of  government as well as private individuals and institutions. Flooding and other environmental problems also constitute existential challenges. Yet they are not prominent among  the issues dominating the public sphere. Unlike ethnicity, religion and political partisanship, environmental topics are hardly hot enough for debates.

These environmental issues are a consequence of climate  change, which is a global issue of debate. Such a debate is not vigorous in Nigeria. 

The many dimensions of the environment  were not prominent as issues in the 2023 elections at the national and state levels. From the environmental degradation of the Niger Delta to the desertification of the Sahel, there is hardly any issue of the environment that is generating passion in Nigeria among political forces. None of the 18  parties  that presented candidates for the  presidential election could be described as a green party. Therefore, it should be not be a surprise when governments fail to articulate policies on the environment around which the public could  be mobilised. The orientation of the people can be changed in some cases when environmental policies are properly  articulated. Generating awareness about the environment should, in fact, be a part of the policy implementation. Doubtless, a politician who doesn’t  see environment as an issue while seeking power  would not prioritise the implementation of environment-friendly policies when he gets to power. 

In the specific matter of floods, it is important to distinguish between  the natural consequences of climate change  and man-made disasters caused by  sheer irresponsibility. Houses and factories are recklessly built on floodplains. Drains are blocked. With flood warnings, those located in the areas of   danger  ought to be moved out to a safe location. The responsibility should be  shared by governments and the affected residents for a humane process to take place. State and local governments should assist in providing temporary alternative locations. Relief agencies should respond to disasters   promptly. Instead of organised responses to the emergencies,  governments fail  to take their own bits of  the responsibility  while those who find themselves in vulnerable terrains inexplicably refuse to move out of danger. On a global level, experts have explained that centuries of  human activities especially carbon mission are partly responsible for climate change. At the country  level,  flood disasters are made more deadly and destructive because governments fail to provide adequate infrastructure and enforce regulations  while some of  the people fail to response to warnings coming from scientific agencies. The relief agencies are not efficient enough and their operations could be better coordinated. 

The interplay of factors on solving the problem is quite obvious and cannot be overstated. The politics and economics of environment will always come to the fore in finding solutions to environmental problems. Flooding is no exception to this rule. An observation made on this page five years ago in the context of the  flood disasters in parts of the country at the time  still remains valid: “Natural disasters do not seem to respect geo-political boundaries. Neither could environmental problems be defined in partisan terms. This is vividly evident in the grim expression on the faces of the poor victims of floods. In their distress, the displaced victims are not interested in the often-overplayed partisan differences among state and federal governments. The people simply expect outcomes of good governance.

“The economics of whatever solution government may come up with to tackle ecological problems is very important. After all, embodied in the revised national policy on environment  are steps to take in funding the policy- implementation including partnership with the private sector. Questions must, therefore, be asked about the management of the ecological fund established 42  years ago as a first line charge to address the problems of the environment. Statutorily, a 2% deduction is made from the federal account for this purpose.

“Unfortunately, for long the resources so pooled have largely become slush funds for successive federal and state governments. The judicious management of the ecological fund is so central to successful implementation of any policy on the environment that it can only be ignored at the peril of the nation. Perhaps, it might not be hyperbolic to suggest that henceforth the diversion of ecological funds be treated as a crime against humanity in view of the looming ecological disasters on the national horizon.

“Environment should also be a focus of politics. Hardly is environment made an issue of elections. Politicians with a passion for the environment are not many on the landscape. Experts may write technically sound policy documents on the environment. The outcomes will eventually depend on the orientation of the political leadership regarding matters of the environment.”

The import of the foregoing is that flood disasters could at least be mitigated if governments  and private individuals and organisations are adequately prepared for floods. It is a big relief  that experts are capable of predicting floods   in a fairly accurate manner every year. In this regard, time and synergy of purpose are essential to mitigate disasters. For instance, the national policies on the environment can only be implemented when the efforts of the state and local  governments are synchronised with steps being taken by the federal government. This would  provide the larger context for understanding the problem of lackadaisical response to flood alerts.             

It is a matter of obvious wisdom that the flood alerts are  heeded. The loss of lives, displacements and destruction  of property are not always  inevitable.

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