Flooding has become a perennial problem in Nigeria. The degree and seriousness of the natural disaster differs yearly. SAMSON BENJAMIN in this report examines the 2019 flood outlook and its implications.
In 2012, the country was hit by the worst flooding which affected 32 states, killing more than 360 people and displacing almost two million others.
Since then, Nigeria has witnessed various degrees of floods with its attendant devastations yearly.
According to statistics from the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), “in 2017 floods affected 250,000 people in the eastern-central region, in 2016, 92,000 were displaced and 38 died and in 2015, more than 100,000 were displaced, with 53 deaths recorded.”
2019 floods outlook
As their custom is, the Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency (NIHSA) recently presented its 2019 Annual Flood Outlook (AFO) in Abuja.
The Minister of Water Resources, Suleiman Adamu, said the AFO was the 7th in the series with the theme “The Role of Efficient Hydrological Services in National Development” by the agency.
Adamu said the AFO would serve as an early warning to people and communities located in and near flood plains and other vulnerable areas.
He said it would also put in place actions necessary to ameliorate adverse effects of flood to lives and property.
“The federal government has taken fundamental initiatives to manage river flows within the country. This has been achieved through construction of dams, reservoirs, artificial lakes, barriers and other structural measures and controls as well as non-structural measures such as flood plain mapping and sensitisation.
“We have also been working in partnership with the riparian countries of River Niger and Benue, as well as the Lake Chad Basin to control the release from dams in a way it does not cause havoc in Nigeria.
“We have regional bodies such as Niger Basin Authority (NBA), Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC), Nigerian–Cameroon Joint Commission as well as Nigerian–Benin Joint Commission facilitating the pursuance of shared vision and effective management of shared water resources,” he said.
Adamu said with adequate funding and establishment of more hydrological monitoring stations, timely forecast and established flood alarm systems at high risk areas associated with flood can be provided.
Similarly, the director-general, NIHSA, Mr. Clement Nze, said the agency has predicted that 74 local government areas are highly probable to experience flooding, 400 LGAs are probable to experience flooding while 600 LGAs are under threat of flooding in 2019.
“The issues here have been well-articulated, no person should build structures within the flood plains, and people should clean their drainages. 2018 was mainly river flooding and pockets of urban flooding.
“Urban flooding is caused by sudden rainfall of heavy amount for very short duration; the ground is unable to take in all of the torrential rain and begins to finds an escape. When the flood looks for a way to move and does not find any, it begins to pull down buildings and bridges.
“It is not easy to predict urban flooding, it occurs suddenly mostly, but river flooding can be predicted to a high level of accuracy because of equipment along the river channels in Nigeria,” he said.
Early warning signs
The director, Applied Meteorological Services, Nigerian Meteorological Agency (NIMET), Mr Mailadi Misau, told Blueprint Weekend that the AFO had become an early warning tool in minimising flood catastrophes.
Mashi said the AFO and the Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) that is issued annually by NiMet would enhance national development in key sectors.
He said: “I, therefore, call on all policy and decision makers in the three tiers of government to take these predictions seriously and prepare adequately against any eventualities.
“Let me advise that with the manner climate change events are unfolding globally whereby a number of predictions are upturned, it will not be enough to present the AFO and then sit back and watch events unfold.”
Experts are worried that floods have become annual occurrences in Nigeria despite yearly warnings by government agencies like NiMet and NEMA.
In a chat with Blueprint Weekend, an environmentalist, Mr Emmanuel Okweche, accused state governments of always overlooking the annual early warning messages in the wake of floods that has become an annual occurrence across the country.
He said, “As usual, NiMet has warned that many parts of the country are likely to experience flooding. Such early warning is commendable. Ordinary, this should spur political leaders at federal and state levels and the citizens into action to begin to put in place measures and mechanisms to curb the projected effects.
“In 2018, NiMet predicted heavy rainfall. Based on this, NEMA sent out early warning messages through the media to governments and citizens. They asked both government and people to start cleaning up drainage ditches, unfortunately, these messages are usually ignored.
“Similarly, the Nigeria Red Cross also put out early warnings based on information it received from Africa’s climate prediction centre, African Centre of Meteorological Application for Development.
“Only a few states adhered to the early warning messages and started clearing their drainage systems or canals for easy passage of flood water.
“Local authorities need to shift from a reactive to a proactive role to fund and map out clearer emergency preparedness plans from now on. Their top preparedness priorities are to clear drainage ditches and move communities in flood-plains to new locations.”
Causes of flooding
Environmentalists and town planners say that major causes of flood, especially in Nigeria could be attributed to climate change, poor drainage system, outright blockage of drainage systems, and distortion of regional town planning through indiscriminate erection of structures on coastlines, among others.
Dr Lawrence Augie, a lecturer in the department of Environmental Sciences, Nasarawa state university, said: “Arguably, climate change is one of the most critical challenges confronting our world today. Climate change as a phenomenon has grave consequences on lives and properties arising from draughts, flooding, shifts in rainfall, temperature and humidity.
“Flooding, as an important climate change parameter, has an anthropogenic exacerbating factor one of which is indiscriminate disposal of waste.
“Waste disposal could be described as indiscriminate when such materials are disposed of at locations that are unlawful and where it could result in or trigger environmental or health hazards to people and animals alike. For instance, refuse disposed in or around canals can hinder the free passage of rain water through such channels and hence cause the overflow of rain water beyond boundaries to damaging proportions. This is common whenever flooding occurs,” he said.
In his own view, an urban and regional planning expert, Mr Sunday Adegbe, who resides in Lokoja, the Kogi state capital, attributed flooding in Lokoja and other rapidly developing cities to “urbanisation which increases the number of roads and buildings.”
He said: “Nigeria’s population is expanding rapidly, currently estimated at 200 million, and the lack of proper town planning can make flooding worse in urban areas.
“Increases in the proportion of surface area where water cannot be absorbed into the ground leading to rapid runoff which leads to flooding during storms.
“The city of Lokoja, for example, at the meeting point of Benue and Niger Rivers, is particularly prone to flooding. If you go to Lokoja, you see massive developments along the Niger River.
“These developments are almost always unregulated, with people building on flood plains, reducing the surface areas for water to travel, and without constructing drainage systems.
“Because of the unregulated nature of town planning, there’s also limited information on how much land has been built on and, therefore, little assessment of the impact.
“Similarly, in Makurdi, for example, on the Benue River one can see all forms of informal activities along the river bank. New land developments along the Niger River have more than doubled in Nasarwa and Kogi states, according to estimates.
“The dumping of waste in the streets can also prevent the steady flow of water and put pressure on the few urban drainage systems.
“It’s also common, after the floods, for people to come back and start rebuilding in the same vulnerable areas,” he said.
Also, Augie also fingers deforestation, which he says is happening across Nigeria.
“It’s a resource that people use for fuel or to sell – but trees play an important role in storing rain-waters.”
Owing to the devastating impact of flooding in Nigeria, the National Executive Council (NEC) had in July 2018, approved the inauguration of a technical committee that will fashion out strategic measures to mitigate flooding in Nigeria.
The committee was inaugurated in April 2019 and it deliberated on the NiMet and NIHSA seasonal rainfall predictions and annual flood outlooks for Nigeria respectfully.
In a press release to newsmen on Monday, the senior technical adviser on disaster risk management, office of the vice-president, Dr Olufemi Oke-Osanyinfolun, said: “The affected states have been classified into three categories in relation to flooding; the severely impacted, mildly impacted and moderately impacted states.
“Using the 2012-2018 floods in the country as bases; Kebbi, Niger, Kwara, Kogi, Edo, Benue, Taraba, Adamawa, Anambra, Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Lagos, Kaduna, and Abuja and other states not listed above have also been categorised as mildly or moderately or affected states.
“The drainage pattern of the severely affected states will be addressed using the existing flood vulnerability map of the federal ministry of environment, could be upgraded to address the issues.
“Workshops on flood prevention, mitigation and preparedness will be held in three states according to the severity classification of the flood impact and identified stakeholders that will be invited for the various workshops.
“All affected states have been requested to identify and submit projects that will build the resilience of their communities and reduce the impact of flooding with cost.
Similarly, Adegbe said: “Incessant flooding in the country can be addressed if government, regulatory agencies and the citizens do what is expected of them and at the right time. They said providing material support to flood victims is appreciable, but the authorities should consider channeling such resources into preventing the menace as much as possible.
“If the impact of flooding is to be reduced in the future, the consequences of rapid urbanisation and poor urban planning need to be addressed.
“And greater co-operation with Nigeria’s neighbours in the control of river levels will need to be achieved in order to avoid dangerous surges in water levels during the periods of heavy rain,” he concluded.
NiMet’s rainfall prediction for 2019
NiMet had predicted lower-than-normal rainfall over most parts of Nigeria in 2019 with expected late start of rains in the North.
The agency had also stated that the South-east zone and the coastal areas would experience normal onset of rains.
Presenting NiMet’s 2019 Seasonal Rainfall Prediction (SRP) in Abuja, recently, the Minister of State for Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said most of the northern states would experience earlier than normal end growing season.
Sirika further said shorter length of the growing season was predicted for most parts of the country, with frequent and severe dry spells over the northern region during the rainy season.
“It is necessary to state that the expected below normal-normal rainfall in parts of the country does not rule out the possibility of isolated flash floods.
“This is due to high intensity rainfall at the peak of the season, especially in places that are naturally prone to flooding,” he said.
Sirika said early release of this vital information such as SRP before the beginning of rainy season was to ensure effective harnessing of the climate resource.
He quoted the World Bank as saying “for every dollar invested in early warning services on weather, about seven dollars is saved from cost of disaster management.
“For more effective service delivery, NiMet has continued to acquire modern weather observing, monitoring and forecasting infrastructure.
“Notable among these are the upgrading of the Doppler Weather Radar, increasing stations density from 54 to more than 100, installation of more than 50 Automatic Weather Stations and the Lightning Detecting instrument.
“NiMet also installed the Low Level Wind Shear Alert system amongst many other improved instrumentation and forecasting techniques.
“Studies have shown that in spite of the increasing number of disasters, with innovative advancement in such EWS facilities, the number of casualties can be significantly reduced by 10 per cent.”
The director-general of NiMet, Sani Mashi, said 2019 was expected to experience rainfall deficit with varying magnitude for most parts, especially northward.
Mashi said the situation would have impact on the timing of the onset and cessation of the growing season, adding that a shorter length of season with low rainfall amount was expected over the country.
“The onset dates are expected to change as we move northwards with areas around Maiduguri, Sokoto, Katsina, Dutse, Potiskum, Kano and Nguru, but this delay is likely to be more evident in the northern states.
“The earliest cessation dates are expected to be from September 29 around the north-western parts of the country. Most of the north is expected to witness cessation dates within October, while the growing season is expected to end between late October and mid-November.
“Parts of the central and southern states are expected to experience end of season by mid-November to early December while along the coast, the season is expected to end by late December,” he said.