By Dr Harrison Eromosele
The annual ritual flooding which every so often besieged and submerged communities, suburbs, towns and certain metropolises across several states and countrywide has degenerated from being a recurring decimal problem to a recurring death crisis. The havoc wrecked by this year’s deadly flooding is overwhelmingly unprecedented. Indeed, it has earned for itself, a catastrophic history. This is The Great Flood of 2022. There are frightening grapevine hypotheses, suggesting that the devastating scale of this year’s (2022) flood condition in relation to 2012 would possibly imply a repeat, once every decade.
Evidence and attendant economic and ecological effects of the excruciating agonies suffered by flood victims abound nationwide. From Adamawa, where the torrential rains in conjunction with the surging confluence of Rivers Benue and Gongola in Numan, submerged approximately 89,000 hectares of farmlands, beside residential locations, government structures, workplaces, markets, worship centres and the loss of human lives, to Benue, where flash flood conspired with the River Benue natural flow channels, as though with the speed of an avalanche flooded the state and sacking over 120 communities not to mention the extensive destruction of lives and properties, down to Anambra, where flood combining with heavy downpour fuelled the rise of river levels with grave consequences on rivers populations, floodplains and other assets around water-bodies, submerging farmlands, sweeping hundreds of thousands of crops away, houses, health facilities, police station and other critical amenities of the state and the unquantifiable losses of both aquatic and human lives (there was a report of boat mishap whose news threw the entire nation in mourning) to far flung Taraba, Nasarawa, Kogi, Cross River, Rivers, Edo, Delta, Lagos, Bayelsa and environs where the flood crises left behind tales and trails of terrors of death and other unspeakable consequences.
Elsewhere, there are reports of how the ravaging flood had overrun and split major accessed roads and highways, obstructing vehicular and commercial movements as route channels became practically impassable, with heavy industrial installations damaged, leading to the temporal closure of NLNG and other relevant downstream operations. Reports from certain quarters revealed the threat of an epidemic. For instance, the UN has reported the possible outbreak of cholera in northeast Nigeria associated with the widespread contamination of water sources, as a result of the spread of sewage, refuse and industrial effluents.
Apparently, flooding remains the most common, natural disaster in Nigeria. Flooding as a national problem is largely leadership-inflicted, with adverse unquantifiable economic and emotional effects on the masses. For instance, the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) typically releases an annual Flood Outcome (AFO) that shows flood-prone zones and peak flood seasons, nationwide. Such a report no doubt is to enhance preparation for flood mitigation and management in states, particularly at risk of flooding. However, state authorities are either accused of not being proactive enough or ignoring the seasonal prediction and early warning altogether. In effect, most state authorities still grapple with the problem of enforcing compliance with the NIHSA guidelines.
I was literally a prophet when I predicted that the deep open drainage system constructed at Ugbowo axis of the Benin-Lagos road, during President Goodluck’s administration would not only be a death trap for vehicular and human activities but also be filled with garbage and sand in a couple of months. It happened. But this is the usual situation nationwide. But why would governments of the day who claim to be people-centred leave existing drainage systems in such a deplorable condition even with the red flags of impending flood danger from NIHSA? The truth is, with the right priorities, governments have the resources to clear up waterways leading to local canals, clean up and make deeper existing drainage systems to become more efficient.
Also, natural flow channels leading to the major sea should be dredged periodically. To support these natural links, well-designed artificial channels should be constructed in line with the local topography connecting to the seas.
State governments, particularly those situated in the Niger River Delta namely, Edo, Bayelsa, Cross River, Ekiti, Ondo, Osun, Rivers and Taraba should curb unbridled deforestation of their rainforest and wildlife resources, as these are natural water-absorbing capacities and a large extent sources of flood mitigation.
In September 2022 the Cameroonian authorities opened overflow spillways at Lagdo Dam to ease the pressure on the dam from the rising reservoir (UN’s International Organization for Migration [IOM]). This particular release of excess water from the Lagdo dam in Northern Cameroon province coincided with the start of the flash flood ravaging many states in Nigeria.
History has it that the Lagdo Dam was completed in 1982 by the Cameroonian government but its failure to contain and check excess water which flooded Nigeria’s towns and villages in the same period led to the feasibility study to build the Dasin Hausa dam in Adamawa which was meant to be 2 ½ times the size of Lagdo Dam. It was meant to serve as a shock absorber for the sudden release of excess water from the Lagdo dam, generate some 300 Megawatts of electricity, and provide irrigation for over 150,000 hectares of land around surrounding states. Sadly, the project was abandoned halfway. Hence, the menace of flooding has remained part of the conventional lifestyle states around the River Benue axis.
Amazingly, the Ministry of Water Resources claimed to have built nine new dams in different parts of the country between 2016 and 2020. Additional 11 dams are expected to be completed before 2023. With this year’s flood, the impacts of the so-called 9 completed dam projects are insignificant. What then is the issue with the Dasin Hausa Dam which has been abandoned for about four decades and experts believed is the main cause of incessant flooding in many states in Nigeria? As always, politicians would rather complete cosmetic projects that assure them of quick personal monetary returns at the expense of the overall societal interest (welfare). This is unpatriotic.
Sadly, as is the tradition, government ministries and agencies along with their political appointees and officials are already having a field day in the following areas (i) displaying disturbing statistical data of flood victims (ii) the blame game (iii) the reactive measure syndrome. For instance, the federal government has churned out certain frightening statistics characterizing the hellish condition suffered by flood victims: 82,053 houses decimated, over 600 people killed, over 1.4 million displaced and a total of 332,327 hectares of land submerged, just to mention a few. On the blame game front, Umaru Farouq said several warnings were issued to state governments but they failed to advance necessary measures to prevent the depth of the devastation. Meanwhile, state governments have lamented the lack of infrastructure and insufficient resources in mitigating the possible impact of flooding. While the Buhari administration adopted its typical reactive measure by dispatching officials to open bilateral talks with the Cameroonian authorities, the Minister of water resources has come out to say that only one per cent of flood crises in Nigeria can be attributed to the Lagdo dam in Cameroon.
Moreover, the Minister dismissed the historical claim that the Nigerian government was supposed to build a Dasin Hausa dam.
From commonsensical empirical observation, there is abundant proof that the harmful effect of flooding is more on poor communities than on towns and cities. In an era of uncontrollable floods, economic security and societal prosperity are threatened as an unquantifiable proportion of private and public assets alongside agricultural produce are decimated. Thus, the societal cost of flooding is usually difficult to quantify economically. By my self-induced rule of thumb, the estimated economic cost of this year’s flooding incurred by Nigerians runs into tens of trillions of naira.
However, there are economic implications governmental authorities should manage with caution. (i). The flood in Bayelsa state has made the Nigerian Liquified Natural Gas (NLNG) Company declare a Force Majeure. The economic implication is that there will be a temporal hike in the price of Gas in Bayelsa state with likely spillover effect on neighbouring states like Rivers and Delta. (ii). The many destructions of farm crops and submergence of farmlands would cause food insecurity leading to food inflation in the coming months. To guard against this impending food inflation, there should be a temporal opening of the border for the influx of agricultural items up to the first quarter of 2023. (iii). No matter what it cost the economy to complete the Dasin Hausa Dam should be done to avert another unquantifiable economic loss.
This time a stitch in time will surely save nine.
Dr Harrison EROMOSELE, Federal University Otuoke, Bayelsa State