In recent years, incidents of flooding have caused devastating effects with the intensity increasing from one year to the next. In 2020, floods affected 320 local government areas in 35 states of Nigeria with 68 people killed, over 129,000 people displaced, and destruction of many properties and farmlands. In 2021, the United Nations reported that over 100,000 people were directly affected by flash floods in Adamawa State alone. From the Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN) data, year 2022 floods killed over 603 people, injured more than 2,400 people, and displaced over 1.4 million people. About 200,000 houses and 332,327 hectares of land were also partially or completely destroyed. In Nigeria, the social and economic losses incurred from flooding have been far worse than the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic.
There are many natural and manmade factors that have been given as reasons for incessant flooding. The first culprit is climate change, which refers to the changing of weather patterns associated with global warming with a warmer climate causing more intense rainfall. There has been a significant change in rainfall patterns in the country, particularly more extreme storms and rainfall, which could last between three to five days non-stop. The ocean and river surge by tides, also push water to overflow its boundaries downstream while states around major rivers such as Benue, Kogi, Anambra, Bayelsa, and Adamawa are mostly affected. The Rivers Niger and Benue overflow their banks into neighbouring communities basically because their depth is silted and shallow, and not able to accommodate the volume of water that flows downstream. The water consequently runs off into the dry lands, causing flooding. Similarly, states around the Atlantic ocean, such as Lagos, also experience such overflows during heavy rains and storms.
Another reason given for flooding was the release of excess water from the Lagdo dam in northern Cameroon, which borders Nigeria to the east. The overflow was meant to be contained by another dam, the Dasin Hausa dam in Adamawa State, north-east Nigeria. Sadly, after more than 40 years of having bilateral agreements between the two countries, the construction of the dam has not been completed. Further exacerbating the situation is the poor water drainage and lack of infrastructure such as dams, reservoirs and bank protection. Many of the rivers in Nigeria are poorly managed and regulated. Siltation of major rivers such as the River Niger, as well as removal of vegetation from river banks and wetlands for agricultural purposes, are all outcomes of poor water resources management, which have also contributed to flooding. Rapid population growth, rural-urban migration and poor spatial planning show that people are building on flood-prone areas such as river banks, wetlands and low-lying areas. In addition, poor solid waste management is a key contributor to flooding, as dump sites often block the flow of water.
The consequences of flooding are socio-economic, health-related, and ecological/environmental. Socio-economic consequences include loss of lives, emotional and psychological distress, and destruction of property, social amenities and infrastructure. Internally-displaced people in overpopulated camps feel the loss of separation from their loved ones and familiar environment, causing grave emotional and psychological trauma. In addition, the loss of economically-productive time and disbursement of relief items cost the economy billions of naira daily. Cost of living becomes generally higher as well as losses of sources of livelihood. People, who remain in their wrecked homes, are forced to depend on stagnant and grossly polluted floodwater for sustenance. In Bayelsa State for example, dead bodies could be seen floating in floodwaters around a local cemetery. This floodwater becomes the only available option for drinking, cooking, bathing, washing and swimming. As such, the risks of emerging and re-emerging waterborne diseases, drowning and malnutrition are imminent.
In a country with an already overstretched and underfunded medical system, the aftermath could be devastating. The ecological consequence of flooding is seen with an increase in the spread of chemical pollutants in water bodies. It also destroys wildlife habitat, depletes fishery stock and alters biodiversity and ecosystem functions, hence critical to socio-economic development. Sizable portions of arable farmland have been submerged under water, crippling economic activity for many small traders and farmers. Several kilometres of roads and infrastructure also sustained damage. Thus, transportation of farm produce and livestock becomes greatly impeded leading to skyrocketing prices of foodstuff, as another year of failing to prepare and plan rools by while Nigeria succumbs to the damage caused by these floods. It is noteworthy that the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA) and other associated agencies appear to have been reactive in handling issues of flooding.
The country can, however, address the menace associated with flooding, and minimise its attendant effects through a proactive, multi-pronged approach. Of particular interest is the completion of the Dasin Hausa Dam in Adamawa State. This is very critical given that aside from the dam absorbing excess water, it will provide irrigation for thousands of hectares of land, stimulate fishing, and support the generation of electricity. The construction of other reservoirs to hold excess water, riverbank protection through reforestation of important river catchments, construction of levees and spillways, appropriate drainage systems, storm water management, and dredging of some of the major rivers in Nigeria will be helpful. This is necessary to accommodate high volume of water, promote inland waterways as well as enhance fishing. Effective communication and bilateral talks with Cameroon on the periodic opening of its dam is also very necessary.
The Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET) releases regular weather data and predicts the rainfall pattern. This is seldom used for planning by the relevant government agencies in charge of disaster management. Given the extent to which the 2022 flooding has devastated the people and the environment leaving many people hopeless, NIMET needs to begin to improve its early warning systems and such communication should be translated into local languages and must be timely and effective. The NEMA needs to have adequate provisions made ready in case of an emergency evacuation. Periodic awareness, education and disaster risk communication is germane. As such, the Nigerian Hydrological Services Agency, NIMET and NEMA are important institutions that need adequate resources and capacity to avert flooding in Nigeria. It is also important for the FGN to strengthen its regulatory, governance and institutional capacity in the area of spatial planning, regional cooperation on transboundary water resources management, emergency response time, flood prediction, and enforcement of environmental and spatial planning laws.
Lastly, we, the citizenry, need to be more responsive and responsible with how we handle our environment. Throwing of dirts and waste into gutters, and waterways, erecting structures on waterways, building houses or roads without provision for gutter and building on flood plains must be avoided at all costs. Water, it is usually said, will always find its level, so its pathway should always be considered and secured. It is pertinent to note that a flood is a national emergency. Armed violence and banditry in Nigeria have already displaced over three million people, and the floods have only added to this number. “Omi o l’ota”, translated in our pidgin English to mean “Water no get enemy”. In this Yuletide season and beyond, may water not cause us pain. Do have merry Christmas and a happy and flood-free 2023!