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Flooding: Imperative of early preparedness

Posted by Editor on May 14, 2013.

MINA OGBANGA.

It was 11pm on Wednesday, May 8, and the sound of drizzle establishing the presence of potential rain got everyone on the alert. What started as some slight drizzle was switftly accompanied by thunder and lightning. The drizzle rose to a crescendo and in no time, just like pellets, hit the roof so hard the buildings literally shook. This heavy rain continued through the night to 4pm the next day! This led to flooding in some areas causing sufficient menace on our roads. Yes, these are signs of the times and  were the times we had to deal with. The climate has indeed changed as there appears an obvious conflict between the seasons in themselves.

When rain falls on Christmas Day, there often is little to say to counter the fact that the state of our weather calls for an urgent attention. As I woke up to witness the continued rain, I knew it was time to ask myself what further steps I could as an individual or as a collective, take to ensure that what is left of our environment and natural resource is simply not washed away before our very eyes.

So, it was with keen interest that I picked up the papers and without any iota of surprise read the headlines: “31 states to experience devastating flood in 2013”. The announcements by the Nigerian Meteorological Agency and related partners have been on the increase since the last flood disaster that brought in its wake unspeakable surprising damage. This time, the news was strategically contained in the 2013 Annual Flood Outlook which had earlier been presented by the Director-General, Nigeria Hydrological Services Agency, John Shamonda.

The report clearly stated that besides key states such as Enugu, Katsina Imo, Ekiti, Abia and the FCT, all 31 other states will experience devastating flood this year. As if that was not enough, it was reiterated that 156 local government areas will be intensely affected and devastated.

There are many angles to managing classified information. Like the biblical Noah, you could in faith utilise the information as a guide to early preparedness thereby minimising any hazard, or like the foolish virgins in the Holy Book, see no need for an extra oil therefore exposing them to the vulnerability associated with the hazard.

This piece is therefore a clarion call towards proactiveness and a paradigm shift from flood risk or emergency management to flood mitigation processes in order to avert avoidable repetitive strains from any disaster. The DG’s report was based on an earlier report by NIMET which assessed the flood which stated also that the estimated rainfall would be between 1,500 and 3,000mm in 2013 as against 800 to 900mm in 2012.

In some states, respective commissioners have been summoned to interface with lawmakers on the plans to check the impending flood while urging the Ministries of Health as an example, to begin plans for necessary medical activities in order to prevent flood-related diseases.

It will be recalled that the 2012 flood heightened by the opening of dams for pressure release, by October 2012 affected over 7.7 million with 2.1 million internally displaced. The nation sadly lost 363 people with over 600,000 houses destroyed. For three lives lost in Boston, hundreds of policemen were deployed to fish out the culprits; so a lot of pain is associated with losing 363! That the flood overwhelmed governments entirety cannot be overemphasised. So, what therefore is the way forward? The following measures will suffice:

1.  Early advocacy and awareness on preventive, protective strategies especially attesting waterways.

2. Infrastructural enhancement like construction of canals and embankments perhaps with reference to the Singapore strategy in shoreline protection.

3. Strengthening/ establishing relevant institutions. Many states still want to see the floods over on their TV sets as they watch the latest football league before they consider setting up agencies, directorates or related structures to proactively manage floods.

4.  Questions have been on the increase as to what happened to the billions raised by the Aliko Dangote led eminent committee. Perhaps, it would be strategic to know what impact committees such as this made or are still making to better prevention and rehabilitation efforts.

5.  Geographically, floods are usually exacerbated by the increasing amount of impervious surfaces which reduce the supply of vegetation that can absorb rainfall. So, perhaps, the evergreen strategy of planting trees needs not be overlooked.

6.  We definitely recognise the terrain in the Niger Delta to be one where people live and work by the river to seek sustenance and generally capitalise on the gains of cheap and easy travel and commerce by water.

7.  Many had thought that it was just the Niger Delta bordered by the coastal areas with their shoreline characterised by flood plains will lead to flooding; but by the announcement, even the dry zone sectors are going to be affected too.

8.  Flooding brings with it several health hazards from common cold to pneumonia, so efforts to address these are vital.

9.  Planting to retain excess water, terracing hillsides to slow water flow downhill and the construction of floodways and drainages are key.

10.  There may be the need to construct dikes, and dams to hold extra water during flooding. Damming of rivers helps flood protection.

11. There may also be the need for river defences like bunds reservoirs and dikes used to prevent rivers from bursting their banks. In the event of their falling, emergency measures such as sandbags or portable inflatable tubes sea walls will help too.

12.  Tide gates with dikes and culverts help stem flooding and prevent tidal waters from moving up land and open during outgoing tides to allow water to drain out rain through the culvert and into the estuary side of the dike.

It is generally said that to be forewarned is to be forearmed. One size doesn’t usually fit all where flood is concerned; so, it calls for multifaceted approaches. Many countries have applied strategic adaptation and mitigation strategies. As an institution, the Centre for Development Support Initiatives is currently leading teams of researchers to find sustainable solutions to the flood menace and roles that can be played by a cross-section of stakeholders as well as come up with intense and functional recommendations on the way forward.

It is key to bring the best in all sectors to the fore to think innovatively to ensuring reduced vulnerability of the entire nation to the flood menace. We are not yet ready for underwater banking, underwater education and all such. So, while our houses still stand, let’s stand to seek solutions…the earlier, the better.

The views expressed above are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of Nigeria Intel. 

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