Lessons from the floods
•All hands must be on deck to forestall a recurrence of this year’s experience
Rather than keep bickering over which agency did this or didn’t do that in the course of the flooding which affected many states in the country recently, what the relevant agencies in charge of such disasters should be doing now is a review of their handling of the situation. This will enable them cope with the situation better in the future. Heaping the blame upon a ministry which is just one of the agencies that should handle the issue is unhelpful and would never allow for any lessons to be learnt from the terrible experience.
This year’s flooding has been particularly devastating globally. Not even the advanced countries were spared. Of course, global warming has remained the culprit, a thing that the developed countries are now prevailing on the developed countries to curb after taking advantage of it to grow their own economies. Even if the developing countries must heed this piece of advice, would it not be appropriate for the developed world to first compensate the developing countries that are also suffering from the effects of what they did not benefit from? Anyway, that is a matter for another day.
Despite the flooding being a global phenomenon, particularly this year, what we experienced in Nigeria was largely manmade. It was the usual ‘Nigerian factor’ at work. Many states were simply caught unawares, despite the early warning signals. We can only imagine what the situation would have been like in a place like Lagos, but for the proactive measures adopted by successive governments in the state, especially since 1999. This is the reason why the flash floods that accompany heavy rainfall in many parts of the state recede in a few days, in spite of the fact that the state is below the sea level. Some other states that have adopted the Lagos template are also benefitting from their proactiveness.
However, the situation in many states is that the governments do nothing until disaster strikes. Kogi State, for instance, knows it is a confluence state. How much of the rivers Niger and Benue has it dredged to minimise the effect of flooding should these rivers overflow their banks? Moreover, all states in the country take ecological fund. But how many of them spend the money for ecological purposes? We witnessed how some state governments diverted bailout funds on more than one occasion when the Federal Government gave them the handouts a few years ago. The kind of financial recklessness in some states is such that monies are easily diverted without any regard for accountability or transparency. This is precisely what happens in many states in the country.
For record purposes, the Federal Ministry of Humanitarian Affairs and Social Development which appears to be at the butt of criticisms on the flooding has put in the public domain some of the actions it took long before the rains came. Sequel to the predictions by both the National Meteorological Agency (NIMET) in its Seasonal Climate Prediction (SCP) for 2022, and Nigerian Hydrological Service Agency (NIHSA) 2022 in its Annual Flood Outlook (AFO), the ministry directed the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) to swing into action, based on the data provided by these agencies. Furthermore, the ministry said it wrote to state governors on the looming disaster early in the year and even held a national consultative workshop on preparedness for the flood, mitigation as well as response to it. It also said it held press conferences and had radio and television appearances to sensitise Nigerians to the impending disaster.
That the floods still wreaked so much havoc was indication that many agencies, including state governments that should have minimised its impact did little or nothing to stem it. It is inexplicable that an estimated 612 persons were killed by the floods which affected 3,219,780 persons, displaced 1,427,370 and injured at least 2,776. This was in addition to landed properties and farmlands that were either totally or partially destroyed by the raging floods.
Many state governments failed to prepare for the rains and its accompanying floods; they were more interested in the quantum of relief materials NEMA had to offer. They then suddenly realised that both NEMA and the ministry did not distribute the relief items well. Would it not have been better if the governors had done their own part and thus minimise their states’ need for relief items? Did governors need anyone to write to intimate them the details of NIMET and NIHSA’s reports before doing their bit in their respective states, after all these reports were there in the public domain for whom they may concern? We can keep on asking questions but that too is like crying over spilled milk.
All said, this year’s floods should be a wake-up call to all the relevant agencies. The Federal Government should accord priority attention to the construction of the Dasin Hausa Dam in line with the agreement it had with Cameroon several years ago. The dam is to buffer the effects of the release of water from Cameroon’s Lagdo Dam. State governments too should do their bit. When all the stakeholders live up to expectation, even where flooding is experienced, it would be flash floods as they would recede in a matter of days. The ministry of humanitarian affairs is basically to coordinate humanitarian affairs in the country. It is not to construct channels for flood. And if its duty is to coordinate, there must be some things on ground to coordinate. That cannot be done in a vacuum.