Curbing perennial flood disasters

To say that Nigerians have been tormented by flood disasters every year is stating the obvious. The havocs got to their peak in 2012 when all the major rivers across the states overflowed their banks and ravaged several communities following heavy rainfall across the states. Uncountable number of lives were lost in what many termed as Armageddon, while properties valued at billions of naira were left in ruins or swept away by the natural disasters.

Nigeria is at the peak of another rainy season. By this time last year, a warning was issued by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency that about 29 states of the federation were at the risk of flooding. Most Nigerians flipped their noses in derision and took the warning as one of those routine yearly alarms. The situation is the same this year. But like in the days of Noah and the great flood, many recalcitrant Nigerians are paying dearly with their lives besides losing their valuables because of their poor attitude to the warnings.

The phenomenon of annual flooding would have perhaps become history if the federal government had been committed to addressing one of the major factors. In September 2009, the federal government officially commissioned the herculean task of dredging River Niger. During a ceremony in Lokoja, the late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua vividly spoke of his seven-point agenda, saying that the project would help in the realisation of his regime’s Vision 20-2020 dreams.

There was excitement among Nigerians, especially those whose communities were traversed by the river, as they welcomed the bold initiative. They also saw the task, when accomplished, as breaking a 43- year-old jinx.

About nine months after the commencement of the dredging exercise, Yar’Adua passed on. And as it is typical of the mentality of our leaders, the project was pursued desultorily and later abandoned. As at 2009, the condition of the river was nowhere as terrible as it is today, leaving flood victims playing hide and seek with floods yearly. Our leaders did not appreciate the dual benefits of the dredging exercise – boost the water transportation and free flow of water along the course of the river. The 2012 flood debacle was recorded as the worst in 50 years not only along the River Niger and major rivers but also across various far flung communities during the heavy rainfalls, killing no fewer than 500 people. Economic life was halted and an estimated total of seven million people were affected, while damages and losses caused by the floods were put at N2.6trn in the 30 states affected.

The then President Goodluck Jonathan had declared the flooding as a “national disaster” and established a National Committee on Flood Relief and Rehabilitation. On October 9, 2012, his administration announced it was providing $110m in financial assistance. In the areas affected by flooding, the displaced are huddled together in camps set up by the state governments.

Ironically, the disaster came calling at the time the dredging exercise would have been completed and Nigeria would have been spared the yearly disasters. The late Yar’Adua saw the future!

There is no gainsaying the fact that besides the obstruction along the paths of many rivers across the states, massive sand dunes have also gradually built up. These barriers inhibit free flow of water. The clogging is responsible for the overflow of the rivers as the water would naturally find the paths of least resistance among adjoining communities, whose inhabitants help flooding by building along waterways and stuffing drainages with refuse.

It is high time the federal government and those states that are always in the eye of the flood took the issue seriously. Nigerians must be made to appreciate government efforts at mitigating the effects of the annual disasters. They should heed alarms to back away from flood-prone areas, avoid the dangerous habit of denying water its right of way in and around their communities. They should also avoid the habitual practice of erecting structures along waterways and clogging drainages with refuse.

Nigeria would save billions of naira being spent on rehabilitation, resettlement of flood victims and rebuilding damaged communities, besides stemming avoidable loss of human lives and properties on yearly basis, by seriously addressing all the major factors causing the calamities where they are avoidable.

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