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Columnist : The 2022 flood is about to surpass 2012

It’s that time again when everyone is worried. We have witnessed 300 lives lost already in Nigeria, according to the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). In Pakistan, the death toll is 1,400. Everything is reminiscent of 10 years ago when Nigeria lost 363 persons to the deadliest floods in our history between July and September 2012. 

As usual, we watch the end of August into September every year with anxiety. But often, we would sit down and blame government officials for doing nothing or for taking bribes and looking the other way when people are building on floodplains or on sewer and drainage lines. However, are we part of the flooding problem? Could we have done something about the causes or severity of floods, or do we literally obstruct those who could do something about them? These may be why the floods are bound to recur and with greater fury.

In 2012, the flood devastated Adamawa, Taraba, Plateau, and Benue States. Over 2 million drenched people were without homes after that bout of environmental bath. It was found that many waterways were clogged or hadn’t got approvals from the government agencies responsible for building certification. (It’s not only in politics that certificates cause disquiet.) In Abuja, many of such structures were in violation of the master plan (that famous document that’s like a masquerade everyone’s forbidden to see). But even if there is no master plan within sight, from the topography of an area, one should be able to say, “I am not going to build on this land where water should channel through.” Of course, Abuja’s famous accommodation problems force indigent and desperate people to take what is considered to be the most affordable shelter. And they turn out to be more expensive when the rains come into the equation.

What happened in 2012 holds a lot of lessons for the present and the future. The rains were heavy, and flood water raced like football hooligans after a contentious game. The Nigerian government did allow the rampaging waters to have their way; they did everything to stop them from overrunning the country. Nonetheless, every water reservoir was overflowing or about to set its straps free. After tense weeks of containing the turgid reservoirs, authorities were forced to open dams to relieve pressure in Nigeria, neighbouring Cameroon, and Niger. River banks and infrastructure broke down; there was a widespread loss of property and livestock, accompanied by flash floods in many areas. It was like external aggression in international politics.

In one month, that is, by the end of October, with 600,000 pre-digested houses in the belly of the cold waters, an estimated 8m people had been affected by this situation. Losses were estimated at US$17m, equivalent to proceeds from crude oil and liquefied natural gas export that disappeared into the pockets of some officials around the year 2016. You can see why we continue to be helpless against everything.

If we look at the ways that flooding has increased in the northern part of Nigeria in States like Katsina that were not traditionally flood-prone, there is a lot to be worried about. Of course, in Lagos, where flood has been a perennial problem has even worsened. In Adamawa, over ten people visited their maker in August because of flash floods which destroyed homes in the States. Jigawa also had a flood that destroyed a lot of things and killed up to 50 people because of torrential rainfall. In Yobe, four people lost their lives, and many other people were displaced in July. We are witnessing an increased incidence of flooding.

Last year, people displaced by floods started having incidences of cholera because, of course, they were displaced and didn’t have the best sanitation or access to safe drinking water because they were forced to drink a broth made from their own excrement. Bauchi also saw a large number of people die, and in Taraba we also experienced floods that made away with the shelter for 300 families. In Benue, 200 houses are now in the belly of the waters, rumbling on a journey into the Atlantic Ocean. So we are heading toward the 2.1 m displacement figures that the flood caused in 2012. Are you and I guilty of what is responsible for them or what could have ameliorated the impacts of the floods when they do happen?

Typically, it is convenient to always point the finger at someone else who does not even know when we’re back on the things we do that create the problem. But you and I can do something. Some days ago, I received a petition from change.org, created by one BoluwatifeIkusemore, asking me to sign on to and compel the Lagos State government, in particular, the  Commissioner for Environment, Tunji Bello, to decongest or renovate the drainage systems in Lagos before it’s too late. As you know, Lagosians are almost amphibious now, fording through waters in the streets these days if they want to do anything other than die of hunger and boredom at home.

The change.org petition contends that “one of the many reasons for floods in Lagos State is a lack of effort effective drainage infrastructure and numerous waterways are being impeded by urbanisation and water diversions are being built despite their inherent risk.” This is true and very sad indeed. There is a situation where 15 million people in Lagos are likely to die from water and flooding stress, which will then pollute the groundwater and directly impact health and the economy.What are they proposing that the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency should give the drainage management to private organisations which will then help create jobs, then wastewater can be sent for treatment and then increase strictness in terms of discipline with how we dispose of waste in ensuring that they are sustainable.

I don’t know how many will be willing to abide by some of the steps proposed above because we tend to have a cynical feeling that good government means lawless government, which is absurd. We think that being good means we know it all, and there is no need to dialogue with the people. Anyway, I signed the petition, which is my own little way of ensuring that I lend my voice to what is being done. At the time of signing the petition, I think we had only 125 persons that had signed, and this is just the online petition, the easiest thing for us to do to lend our voice in support of a desired change. We were here to get 200 signatures in support of what this young lady has done, taking it upon herself to create a petition and have a call to action. In these days of abundant cynicism and ‘cancel culture’, young Nigerians are likely to ignore the strength of online petitions and continue to lament. I hope they prove me wrong.

Anyway, I think we can still do things to ensure that we do not have 64 more deaths from flooding in 2022, so that we do not break the 2012 flood records. I have read up about many ways that we can collectively try to reduce the incidences of floods in the country. Some of them are practical things to do but, in Nigeria, some can be downright dangerous because of how carefree we can be. Imagine, for example, the idea of trying to reduce the amount of rainwater that gets to the floor during the rains by trapping some of it on your roof. The idea is to have a small farm on your roof, growing vegetables and such weightless stuff. Easy, isn’t it? So it seems. But most of our roofs leak already, even without a feather on them. What then would happen when someone attempts to grow tomatoes and spinach on their roof? To worsen the matter, poverty and overambition are likely to drive one to zealously grow yams on his rooftop. If the yams do not collapse the roof, then during harvest, imagine how much it is going to rain human beings as the concrete roof caves in!

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